Monday, February 27, 2006

Wes Craven Nightmare: You Can't Spell Condominium Without.... Inium

“You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy. We must be cautious”

Does that sound familiar? It’s a quote from the first Star Wars from 1977 which means that yes folks I have seen it, and if you stay tuned later this week you will see my review of the film.

Today however that quote concerns a condo complex I once lived in for three years that we will call “Wes Craven”. Later on I will tell you some stories about my Nightmare on Elm Street… a place not haunted by Freddie Kreuger but rather by two characters named “Magda” (named for the wrinkly old neighbor in There Something About Mary which I watched during the blizzard 2 wks ago) and “Mr. Loser“, and a bumbling condo management company guy named “Mr. Flintstone“… Mr. Loser is one of these guys who in high school was the senior the freshmen used to pick on.

If you are a condo resident or are planning to buy one.. Today’s column is a must read… There may even be a quiz... Trust me…. I know what I am talking about.

A recent front page article in the paper caught my attention that made condo residents cheer and evil ego maniacal board members cringe. Buried in the headlines on the day we first heard of the NHL gambling fiasco and the death of Coretta Scott King at some wacky now closed clinic in Mexico was the tale of the NJ State appeals court ruling in favor of residents of the Twin Rivers Condominium Association. Just last week a NJ State Assembly Committee passed a bill that will take away more power from condo boards run by ego maniacs. I also have an important organization to tell you about called The Common Interest Homeowners Coalition.. And a couple named Haim and Margaret Bar Akiva. If you live in a condo or plan to do so, then write this down.. that’s right.. Go get a pen… We’ll wait for you to get back. Ill hum while we wait….

Do Do Do Do Do…..(that Walk on the Wild Side by Lou Reed is still ringing in my ears!)

Back to the condos.. Kudos to the residents of Twin Rivers. They stood up to their board and won. Personally, I have lived in 2 different condo complexes. The place I live in now has an ok board.. I have no issues with them and they have acted very honorably… But the Wes Craven complex was run by a bunch of power hungry losers who were probably picked on all of their lives and now take it out on the residents who dare to try to enjoy life under their insane regime….

Twin Rivers went to the Appellate Court over the relatively minor issue of allowing residents to display flags… nothing major.. Yet the strict limitations about the type of flag combined with a few other nuisance rules lit a spark under the Bar Akivahs and led to a court ruling that I feel is fantastic! The ruling basically strips the corrupt boards of their all encompassing power.… a ruling that the people still living at Wes Craven will gladly embrace. This is assuming the same board is still there.. But who knows, they conducted a lot of shenanigans involving voting, so who knows what goes on there?

Wes Craven used to be a nice place. My mother lived there at one time, as did my friend Joe who served on the board when the board was honest and had integrity. . Interestingly enough, Joe moved out before I moved in, yet he was the President when my mom was there and was extremely helpful to her when she asked to get a new railing for some stairs. Trophy Wife and I have since become friends with Joe and his family, and he actually was the ring inspector and yichud guard at my wedding. (Yichud guards block the entrance to the room where the couple goes for “private time“ right after the wedding.)

In early ‘04 I realized how horrible an out of control board can get. Once I escaped the madness there,…and I moved to my current complex, I vowed to attend every public meeting… and so far I must say the board is honest and ethical. If there is any advice I can give a condo resident.. It is attend those board meetings and make sure that these people behave themselves. The chuckleheads at Wes Craven circumvented that by keeping their meetings private.

I took issue with the activities of 2 board members that involved calls to the police and ultimately a complaint filed in Trenton. Even though nothing was accomplished with my case.. I can appreciate the satisfaction that the Bar Akivas must be feeling. Corrupt boards like the Wes Craven board hold their meetings privately with no input from residents. That allows them to do all kinds of sneaky and sleazy activities. On Presidents Day Mrs. Bar Akiva wrote a fantastic editorial about some of the problems such as the fact that boards finance their battles using resident’s maintenance fees.. And they obsess over all kinds of silly little things such as toys left on balconies, etc. Classic line from her piece… “the boards aren’t interested in HOW my neighbor is doing.. They’re more concerned with WHAT my neighbor is doing!” One nice young neighbor at Wes Craven a European immigrant who was new to the USA kept her toddler’s toys on the porch which you could only see by standing in the bushes in front of the unit and peering over the top… which is exactly what Magda aka Cruella DeVille did.. I could see from my bathroom window how Magda would waddle through some bushes to this woman's porch and then desperately hop up and down to catch a peek over the top to see what toys were stored there. Its almost as if she was a peeper looking for nude sunbathers. After her little visits, Magda promptly sent her letters threatening huge fines!

I heard about the Bar Akiva situation when I went to Trenton to rat out my old board. I also want to share an excerpt from my correspondence about what led me to go to lawmakers and what can happen when loser board members allow their delusions of mediocrity fuel their egos…. I feel like a movie star who goes on Letterman with a clip! Here’s the set-up… Basically the management company made a mistake and the corrupt board took advantage of it. Incidentally the management company is owned by a local politician whose opponent is guaranteed my vote in the next election! Here are the basic highlights… For the blog, the names have been altered to protect the guilty…. but the actual letter named names! In reality most people don’t know them since these pathetic creatures hid behind their mommy’s skirts… aka the management company.. Cue the Law and Order Music…


In January, “M” Management took over management of the complex. They also changed the prior company’s policy of mailing out monthly bills, and instead sent out a payment book. I never received this payment book, and I did not know about the new policy. In the middle of January, I received a bill from them along with a $25 late fee. Again, the next month I got a bill and another late fee. This went on for about four months, and each month I promptly sent a bill along with a note saying I shouldn’t have to pay the late fees since the bill was sent late. I even enclosed the original envelope with a post mark showing the date “the bill” was sent out.

Ultimately in April, I mentioned something to my neighbor about conversations with “Mr. Flintstone“. from “M” after a visitor of mine had been threatened with notes from Magda and Mr. Loser (but signed by “M”) that her car would be booted for parking in a visitor spot. (That is NOT a misprint, and I will address the wheel boot issue later in this letter.) My neighbor told me about the payment books at which point I called Mr. Flintstone to request one. It took him about a week to ten days to get it to me, at which point I immediately sent in a payment.

Every month after that, each payment was sent in on time. However, the statements kept showing late fees. It also showed an extra months payment was due, but I just figured that their bookkeeper was posting my check after the monthly invoice was mailed, which is very common with other bills such as the phone, and cable, etc. At the end of the year, I called them to point out the extra month on the bill, and they informed me that I owed an extra month. I told them I kept impeccable records, because I send the check the same day as my mortgage bill, and I knew from my itemized deductions exactly when those checks were written and mailed.

I asked them to send me a list of each payment, and after carefully reviewing their records, I realized that I accidentally missed the payment for the month that they had sent me the book. Each subsequent month’s payment was punctual, but the bookkeeper posted it as the prior month’s payment, so even though only one month was late, they were charging late fees for every month, which added up to $275.

I called Mr. Flintstone, and told him I was sending the payment for the missed month, but I didn’t feel that it was fair to be charged a late fee, because if I had received the original payment book, I never would have had any late fees. Ever since I moved to Wes Craven, every payment has been punctual, except for the months described above. Mr, Flintstone advised me to send a letter to the board explaining the situation, and request that the late fees be waived. I wrote the letter, mailed it in, never heard anything about it after that, and thought that was the end of it.

(Folks on the blog… here is where we go from incompetent to just plain corrupt…)

A few months later the board held elections, and I was one of four residents who attended the meeting to vote in person. One man there was told he could not vote because he owed $25 in fees, and according to the rules anyone voting has to be up to date on fees. Nothing was said to me about owing money, so I voted, wrote my name down, and signed my ballot. Two of the three other people there were witnesses. The ballots were counted, and the votes were announced. I left shortly thereafter with the two witnesses, and as we left the building, I asked them if my vote had counted. They said it did, and I reasonably assumed that the late fees had been waived.

On April 8, I went to my car and saw a boot on it. I called Mr. Flintstone to remove it and he said only the board could authorize boot removal, and that I still owed past late fees. I asked Mr. Flintstone why I owed the money and he said the board rejected my letter requesting the waiving of the fees. However, I never got a letter from the board, (which Mr. Flintstone would later admit was never sent out to me), and I asked him why I was allowed to vote. He told me my vote was pulled after I left the election meeting. However, unbeknownst to Mr. Flintstone, I left with the witnesses, which means Magda and Mr. Loser purposely changed the votes outside the presence of the witnesses.

I called Magda to remove the boot, and she said she would not speak to me until the association meeting two weeks later, and if I wanted my car back, I would have to pay the boot fee. I told her this was an error and she hung up on me mid sentence.

Two weeks later, at the meeting, these fees were discussed with the board. They originally demanded $275 in late fees, and $100 for removal of the boot. Ultimately they forced me to pay $200 to get the boot off my car. I feel this is unjust, and I should not have to pay because of the errors made by “M“. I also don’t like that my car was held hostage for close to three weeks, until I paid these outrageous fees. Incidentally, “M” has made numerous errors in the past. It takes them weeks to send parking decals; one neighbor didn’t get his because there was no postage on the envelope. Also, when I went to pay the $200, they insisted I owed $275, and ended up calling the Association’s attorney to confirm the correct amount. I don’t have an issue with “M”’s mistakes, but I feel that there is absolutely no reason that I should have to be penalized $200 for those errors.

(Attention blog readers.. More corruption is coming by our friend Magda!)

As for the wheel boot, I called the police to have it removed. They were stunned that a car had been booted for such a controversial late fee, but said that they could not take it off if the condominium’s bylaws stated that this was allowed. “M” provided me with an amendment to the bylaws signed by Magda (and her name is misspelled on the document). However, according to Page 41 of the Wes Craven bylaws, any changes to the bylaws can only be made by a vote by the residents. The notice by Magda clearly states that the wheel boot rule was voted on by the board. Both documents are attached.

(Yes folks.. I actually sat and read the whole bylaws to find that blurb on page 41! And finally bloggers… more insight into what losers with no friends do in their spare time…)

As a result of this new rule, numerous residents have been harassed by threats to have cars booted. Visitors also have been harassed for parking in visitor spots. Another included document shows rules on limits on how often a person can visit and park here. Magda and Mr. Loser actually walk along the grounds on an almost daily basis, and jot down license plate numbers that are then sent over to M. These cars then get threatening letters on their windshields that their cars will be booted. I asked Mr. Loser why he doesn’t sign his name to those letters, and he arrogantly replied that M should take the heat because that is why they get paid a lot of money. Personally, I don’t feel that my high maintenance fees should pay M to take the heat from angry residents who are fed up with Magda and Mr. Loser.

And that folks…. is basically the letter…It goes on to outline other indiscretions by this board.. But basically I think you got the gist of it. By the way, I had 2 cars at the time.. so the boot didnt stop me from getting anywhere. And sadly this is just a microcosm of what can happen when a condo board goes wild! I along with other condo residents applaud the Bar Akivah family for standing up.. And also for the excellent editorial that shows how much of our maintenance fees go to stupid unnecessary expenses. Keep up the good work! And folks…. If you live in a condo or plan to do so,………… go to the meetings.. And watch your boards!!


Dana, Gary, and the Rugrats said...

Ohhh Nate, I haven't read you blog in a while, and was laughing at this one post. It's so timely! We're in a huge battle with our HOA at Tahoe right now. I definitely sympathize with you. Most people involved in the politics of HOAs have personal motivations. In our case, a guy is trying to get our end-tie which we need to keep our 27" boat b/c it won't fit into our deeded boat slip. Amazing how he didn't care about rules for end-ties until he decided to buy a large boat and wanted to knock us out of our spot! Well anyway, I have spoken to alot of people and issues like this are common. I hope you and Trophy Wife don't have any problems at your current place. I am glad we don't live full time at our place at Tahoe, I don't think I could deal with it on a full time basis. Hugs to you and Trophy Wife!! - Dana

Anonymous said...

While I understand there are Board members with personal agendas, I beleive that is the exception and not the rule.

As someone who went from living in a signle family home to a condo for the first time, I decided to learn how condo living operated. So I volunteered and eventually was asked to complete the term of a Board member who had to resign.

Serving on the Board is a TIME CONSUMMING, THANKLESS JOB. I suggest more of you take the time to serve on your Board or at least volunteer for a committee and put your time your mouth is.

As with everything else in life it is easy to criticize, but hard to get off your butt and do something to promote the change you think needs to take place.

It takes time, energy and a great sacrafice to serve on a Board. furthermore, your made a decision to live in an association community, no one forced you into it. If you didn't do your homework and review the By-laws and Rules before buying, shame on you.

Stop blaming those who do serve on your Board, AS THE LAW DICTATES, and take responsibility. If you don't like what is happening WORK TO CHANGE IT!

I'm sure not getting rich being on the Board. No one pays for all the extra phone calls I have to make by serving on the Board. No one pays me for all the time I give preparing for meetings, reviewing vendor bids, calling the Property Manager when the snowplow forgets to plow the end cul-de-sac. People have no problem picking up the phone and complainig, but ask for volunteers to join committees and everyone hibernates.
We asked for volunteers for months to serve on the landscaping committee. No one had the time. We met with the landscaper and made decisions based on their input and our best judgement.

Well when a some old trees and shrubs were removed, the homeowners living in that area of the complex suddenly found time to call and share their opinions about the work. So I suggested they join the landscaping committee to oversee the major landscaping work that we have planned for next year. That was 4 months ago, guess how many of those homeowners have signed up for the committee? NONE!



Nate said...

Thanks for responding DAK, but with all due respect I think you're a bit off base. I am sympathetic to your situation of being on the board and getting a lot of criticism from people who just like to complain. However, if you read the column you actually addressed it in your first sentence... this was the exception instead of the rule.

In the case of the board of the complex I used to live in.. (the board at my current complex does a good job),they were corrupt and sleazy and made and broke laws whenever it was convenient for them.

I did my part by going to meetings, but of course this board opted to hold their meetings privately. Sometimes the board members do a good job as is the case with you... but other times the board is the source of the problems as was the case at this complex.

By the way - this column was written almost a year ago... thanks for the response.