Answers to frequently asked questions about Massachusetts condominium law.
What is the condominium superlien?
While the term "Superlien" may be a misnomer, it refers to the priority lien a condominium association has under Massachusetts state law. The lien has priority, meaning it jumps ahead of a first mortgage, to the extent of six months of condominium common area charges as well as reasonable attorney's fees and costs involved in collecting these charges, provided certain steps are taken by the Association.
What must be done to enforce the priority lien?
There are certain steps that a condominium association should take, including notifying the unit owner and holder of a first mortgage of a delinquency in the payment of common area expenses. The association should also send the first mortgagee a notice of its intent to institute a lawsuit should the matter not be resolved. Sometimes a lawsuit is necessary to preserve and enforce the lien. There are strict time frames involved and a lawyer should be retained to best protect the association's interests.
How are condominium lien claims resolved?
Lien claims are usually resolved either by payment by the unit owner or the first mortgagee. When the mortgagee pays off the lien, it is restored to its first priority lien position. On occasion, a unit is sold and the condominium association receives payment from the proceeds of the sale.
How should a board deal with poorly behaving unit owners, tenants or guests?
A board is responsible for enforcing the terms of the condominium master deed, declaration of trust, including by-laws, and other rules and regulations. A board's powers can include fining and, if necessary, obtaining a court order prohibiting certain behavior. A board should make sure that its restrictions are reasonable and uniformly enforced.
Are unit owners entitled to see all of the condominium's financial information?
By law, a condominium association must keep certain records and make them available for a unit owner to review. The law specifies which records must be kept and made available for a unit owner to review and copy. These include certain records of receipts and expenditures, invoices and vouchers, bank statements, contracts and current insurance policies.
What happens if a unit owner files for bankruptcy?
This is a frequent occurrence. If the association takes appropriate steps, it should get most, if not all, of the money it is owed from a unit owner who files for bankruptcy. When a unit owner in arrears of condominium fees files for bankruptcy, the association should contact a lawyer trained in this area to assist them with requisite bankruptcy filings. If appropriate steps are taken with the bankruptcy court, an association should be fully protected to enforce its lien, and to be paid everything it is owed, including its attorney's fees.
Can a board prohibit smoking within a unit or in common areas?
While a master deed could prohibit smoking of any kind at a condominium, such governing documentation is rare. Smoking could be prohibited by a board in or on common areas by an appropriate restriction within the condominium documents though prohibiting a unit owner or tenant from smoking within their own unit has not, as yet, been allowed by a Massachusetts court. Smoking within a unit involves a difficult balance between an owner's right to enjoy his unit by smoking and a unit owner who claims the enjoyment of their unit is hindered by their neighbor's smoking. These disputes are sometimes resolved through smoke mitigation measures which allow a unit owner to continue smoking and a neighbor to get relief from second hand smoke.
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