Sell your condo unit or rent it out?
Being a landlord is an altogether different responsibility from being on the condo association board or a general owner. While there are certainly strenuous tasks for condo unit owners, condo unit owners who are landlords and condo unit owners who are board members, landlords are the ones who tend to get pulled in two different ways — from their tenant and from the board. They act as a representative for the person they’re renting to but also have a vested, long-term interest with what happens in the building (whether that tenant stays or goes). Do those two goals always match? Sometimes yes, many times no.
For two years prior, I occasionally asked my parents why they wouldn’t rent out my grandfather’s vacant home. However, they were (and are) steadfast in their view of not having the heart to be landlords — or more importantly, being firm when it comes to late rent or evictions. As a full-time freelancer, I’m pretty rigid about things like this. Once you sign a contract, it is what it is. Even as a tenant, I was fully aware that property managers have mortgages to pay and their own bills for their homes. Shorting them on rent was a non-negotiable for me because I know what it’s like when working with clients.
However, there is a level of leadership that apartment and house landlords (and condo unit owners who rent out their units) have that can be pretty time consuming. While quite a few complaints will bleed their way over to the board to resolve (if it’s a shared space), quite a few things tend to be on landlords to resolve.
Plumbing repairs? That’s on you. Electricity issues? Handle them. Exterminator problems? Your job. No heat and/or water? Take care of it. Loud neighbors? You must deal with this, too. While your tenant should ideally honor every part of your lease, there are responsibilities you must be prepared for before agreeing to rent out your unit. It cannot just be collecting rent and telling your renters to figure it out themselves.
(Note: I had a condo landlord during my rental days who would go to Thailand all winter and into spring. I worried about potential complaints going ignored or postponed for months, but she made an agreement with another unit owner to be my acting landlord while she was away. The only problem was that he was hard of hearing and had reached an age that made it difficult for him to even climb stairs. Meanwhile I lived on the third floor and usually ended up banging on his door hard enough to hurt my hand whenever I needed an issue resolved. We still made it work, and he was a lovely guy.)
Where condo board responsibilities begin for landlords
There’s a fine line between what a renter’s landlord will resolve versus the condo association board. Checking out the budget and/or bylaws will pretty much nail down who handles what. Each year, the board creates a financial budget to cover expenses for all condo unit owners. For example, extermination and plumbing charges may be included in condo assessments. So if a renter has a plumbing problem — and as long as it’s not something the renter did for aesthetics or avoidable damage — chances are pretty high that the condo board would cover those expenses from condo assessments paid by all of the unit owners. The same goes for extermination or anything else that has already been included in the annual budget.
There are also certain expenses that are mandatory for the board to cover such as the water and sewage bill (usually spelled out in the bylaws). If the laundry facilities have sewage problems or a tenant is having sewage backups in a sink, that’s on the board to resolve. Pretty much any expense that would affect the entire building instead of just one unit is usually something that is divvied up by the unit owners.
The condo unit owners will (usually) know who is in charge of what. They should be able to tell what will come out of their own pockets (or from rent money) versus what the board would be in charge of — from assessments and management contacts. However, as a landlord, all contact about the unit you own should come through you first. This means your tenant(s) should be able to have an open line of communication with you. Referring back to my landlord who would go to Thailand regularly, even when I knew she was on a different timezone, that was the deal. I knew who some other condo unit owners were, but I definitely did not knock on their doors, ring their bells, or call the phones of random board members to fix issues in my unit. It was her responsibility to figure out how to get a plumber to repair my sink or replace cheap blinds she continuously bought for my picture window. If she refused to fix something, which rarely happened besides those blinds, I pointed to the lease and she’d grudgingly do it.
But for a tenant, it may still seem bizarre to not ask the obvious person who is going around fixing things and posting signs about board activities. To them (including me), it seemed logical to just go directly to that person. I didn’t understand where the line was between landlords and the condo board — until I watched it in action. My landlord decided she was going to cut corners on paying for a fence to be installed. She created what my father referred to as a “chicken coup.” It was the laughingstock of the block. The condo board went nuts when they saw what she concocted — in multiple colors, of various materials and in a few different heights. No one would be convinced it was professionally done. Even after weeks of creating her own version of a fence, the board made her take the whole thing down. Her time and money went out the window, and (even though she was on the board) she built a new fence — with professional help.
Condo boards vote on expenses. With a two-third majority, that can pretty much end and begin any project. And condo unit owners vote to have these condo board members be involved each year. (Depending on the bylaws, the board could be made up of a President, Treasurer and Secretary. However, some condo boards have Members at Large.) Tenants will usually not know who does what and in what role (unless it’s clearly stated on a lobby sign) nor the process to vote on building and unit repairs. But condo unit owners are invited to organized meetings to share their views on behalf of themselves and tenants, which means renters should be speaking up to their landlords about ongoing issues.
There should never be a situation in which the board is telling the condo unit owner what a tenant wants repaired. It’s not supposed to work in that order. Board members are not landlords — unless they’re renting out their own units. (Depending on the bylaws, that can be frowned upon, too. Many bylaws insist that board members must live on the property because they’ll have a first-hand view of what needs to be done.)
So if a condo unit owner decides to move to a different property and really doesn’t want to stay abreast of what is going on in the building, it’s almost certainly a better idea to just sell it off. Otherwise, the unit owner will still have to juggle concerns, repairs and expenses in their own homes, plus those of board dealings and prior home. There is no right or wrong answer as to which decision each condo unit owner should make.
I’ve known condo unit owners who own more than 20 properties and can easily keep their ear to the “brick” of each building — knowing all the ins and outs. But without reasonable communication with the board, attending board meetings and knowing who does what, being a landlord can quickly become more work than a property owner is prepared for. The choice is theirs to make. For condo unit owners who are not sure, definitely have someone appraise the unit after moving out to find out its value versus monthly rental rates — and make sure not to create excessively long leases or charge a tenant more than state laws allow for security deposits.
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