Q: I have a condo that I rent. The condo association has started a new annual fee of $600 to cover administrative costs for rentals. The association also now charges $350 every time a renter moves in or out of the building.
The move in and out fees cover the cost of reserving the elevator and placing padding on the elevator walls. Previously, the condo association returned the whole amount to the renter if there was no damage to the building. Now, the new rules say the building keeps $100 and only returns $250 of the $350 fee.
I feel this is an excessive fee and I don’t think we’re given a choice because we’re renters, not owners. Can I contest this fee? Thanks for your help.
A: You’re facing two issues, and both are a little tough. The first is that condo associations are trying to get extra revenue from other sources without raising association assessments. One way to do this is to increase fees for everything.
You’ve probably noticed a surplus of fees in almost everything you do. Cable companies now charge fees for local stations, fees for sports packages, and so on. Many cellphone companies do the same. Even airlines and hotels now charge fees for things that once were all included in the base price for a ticket or hotel room. Government agencies now charge for many things that were at one time free, and you see services unbundled and priced separately.
As this unbundling occurs, you end up paying more. Sam recently had the oil changed in his car and had to pay a “rag disposal fee.”
Condominium buildings try to get fees from sales and purchases, but also when owners and renters move in and out of the property. In addition, there are association late fees and even fees for the “convenience” of having those assessments auto debited from your account.
We agree that in some cases these fees have gotten out of hand. Sam has encountered fees charged to sellers of condominiums up to $700 to get the association documents along with the final paid assessment letter to close on the sale.
So, we’re not really surprised by the fees you’re being charged. Many associations want to discourage the leasing of condominium units and would prefer a larger percentage of the building be owner occupied. To that end, the association will tend to assess a larger fee load on tenants, including moving fees.
Unfortunately, there isn’t much you can do here. If you were an owner in the building, you could get enough owners together to request that the board reassess the fee structure and reduce the fees. Or you could run for the board or vote in other board members who might rescind the fees.
Although, if you reduce the fees on one end, you will have to find that revenue elsewhere. And therein lies the problem. Your owner occupants would rather you, the tenant, pay a higher fee so they pay less. And your owner is absent, so he or she isn’t around to make some noise about it.
Are there any laws in your state that limit which fees a condo association can assess and levy? Do your association documents have any limits? We doubt it, but it’s worth a look. At the end of the day, though, you’re subject to the rules of the condo building. And if you don’t like them, you have two choices: more or buy your own condo.
Let us know how things end up.
(Ilyce Glink is the author of “100 Questions Every First-Time Home Buyer Should Ask” (4th Edition). She is also the CEO of Best Money Moves, an app that employers provide to employees to measure and dial down financial stress. Samuel J. Tamkin is a Chicago-based real estate attorney. Contact Ilyce and Sam through their website, bestmoneymoves.com.)