The sudden collapse of the 12-story Champlain Tower South Condominium in Surfside, Florida has focused attention on the need for all condominiums to determine and fund the long-term needs for repair and replacement of structural common components such as roofs, foundations, and walls, as well as the common plumbing, electrical and mechanical systems.
A prudent condo board should periodically obtain information regarding the estimated remaining life of each common property component and the estimated cost for future repair and replacement. Known as a “reserve study”, this evaluation should be performed by an independent construction professional. Based on the future estimated repair costs, the board should accumulate “reserve funds” as part of the annual owner assessment to pay for repairs when needed.
Recent changes in Maryland law now require all condos, housing cooperatives and homeowner associations in Montgomery County and Prince George’s County to obtain a reserve study every 5 years and to include funds for recommended repairs in the annual association budget. Prince George’s County and Montgomery County, bordering Washington D.C., are the 2 most populous Maryland counties with nearly 2 million total residents.
A Maryland condominium board of directors’ approval of a $1.2 million contract to update the fire alarm system was invalid where the board did not provide proper advance notice to unit owners, according to a recent decision of the Maryland Court of Special Appeals.
Although neither the condominium bylaws nor the Maryland Condominium Act expressly required notice of a special board meeting be given to unit owners, the appeals court ruled that it is implicit in the open meeting requirements of the Condominium Act that owners be provided with the same notice which the bylaws require to be provided to the directors.
Condominiums in Maryland have a duty to exercise reasonable and ordinary care to keep the common area safe for residents and their guests. Where there is a dangerous condition on the property which the condominium board or manager knew or should have known about, the condominium may be liable for the injuries caused by the dangerous condition.
Duty Owed Depends on Status of Injured Person. As explained in a decision of the Maryland Court of Special Appeals, the potential “premises liability” depends on the relationship between the injured person and the condominium. For an “invitee” on the property at the invitation of the property owner, there is duty of reasonable and ordinary care which includes a duty to inspect the property to discover and correct dangerous conditions. Invitees must also be warned of known dangers. For a “social guest” or “licensee” who is permitted on the property for the benefit of the person entering the property, there is only a duty to warn of known dangers. For a “trespasser” or “bare licensee” who does not have permission to be on the portion of the property where an injury occurs, there is merely a duty to refrain from willful injury or entrapment but no duty to warn of dangerous conditions.