If a rental tenant defaults, persists in violating rules, or breaks the law, they can be evicted from their unit. It can certainly be a drawn-out, acrimonious process, but it’s more or less routine. While much more rare – and more complicated – it’s also possible to terminate a co-op shareholder’s proprietary lease and compel him or her to vacate the building for compelling financial or administrative reasons.
By contrast, removing a condo owner from a building or association and effectively wiping out his or her equity position as a member of the community is extremely difficult, and subject to very narrow legal interpretation. For example, while theoretically a co-op shareholder could be evicted from residency for non-monetary defaults, the same is virtually impossible in a condominium. Condos are pure real estate, not shares in a cooperative corporate entity. As a matter of fact, from a legal standpoint, the word ‘eviction’ cannot be used in reference to removing a condo owner (though it can be applied to removing a rental subtenant in a condominium unit—a point we will return to later.) The closest we can come to a legally recognizable term for this type of action in a condo association is removal.
Removing a Condo Owner
Points of law on this subject are consistent from state to state, with only slight variations. The important distinctions relate to who is being removed; the actual owner of a unit, or that owner’s tenant. In both cases laws are consistent on the most basic matters, with slightly differing approaches and nuances in some states’ statutes.
Julie Schechter is a partner with Armstrong Teasdale, a law firm based in New York City. She explains that a condominium association, unlike its cooperative corporation cousin, has recourse against a unit owner only for monetary default issues – which in turn almost exclusively refers to non-payment of common charges. Unlike in a co-op, condo owners cannot be removed for bad behavior. Schechter outlines the process as follows:
“When a condominium is owed common charges [from a unit owner], the board can file a lien against the unit. Once the lien has been filed, the board has two options: it can bring an action to recover the money due, or it can foreclose on the lien. A lawsuit to recover the money due is less expensive and faster than a lawsuit to foreclose the lien, but neither is very fast. If the board is successful in a lawsuit to recover the money due, it will obtain a money judgment that can be enforced against the unit owner’s bank accounts or other assets. The assistance of an enforcement official, such as a City Marshal or Sheriff, is required to enforce the judgment.”