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Update or Upgrade? Seek Owner Consensus Before Switching Building Materials

Everyone agrees that condominiums need to be painted regularly. But ask what color should be used, and you could get as many answers as there are people living in the building.

Aesthetic continuity can be extremely important to owners. One reason people buy into a development is because the way it looks fits their image of home. Changes to the appearance can cause emotions to run high. Just mention the words “vinyl siding” at an open meeting and see what happens.

While unit owners know that the elements of a building envelope – roof, siding, windows – must be periodically replaced, to many people “replacement” means “exactly the same.” But sometimes it isn’t practical – or possible – to find an exact replacement. These items may have to evolve – either due to changing times, advances in technology, or materials no longer being available. The question for boards is: “What are the legal and practical limitations when looking at major repairs? And how can a board best address the maintenance needs without creating emotional upheaval?”

“The best way to avoid those kinds of blowups is for boards not to take it upon themselves to change the aesthetics of the buildings,” said attorney Seth Emmer, a principal of Marcus, Errico, Emmer & Brooks, PC, in Braintree, Massachusetts.

If the trim has been Williamsburg blue for more than a decade, it’s not a smart idea to change it to paprika without letting owners weigh in. In fact, a court case in Colorado found that “a change in color was such a material change that it required a unit owner vote,” said Emmer. Now, that is just one case. “But from my perspectiveas a lawyer, boards have to understand that the property is owned by the unit owners and not the board.”

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