Goodspeed: Condo associations have the right to change rules

Linda Goodspeed
Correspondent
Under the state's condo statute, condo associations have broad authority to establish rules and policies governing the management of the property and its common areas.

QUESTION: I bought a condo in a small building about 10 years ago. Five years ago, I got married and we moved into my husband's house outside Boston. We decided to keep my condo as an investment and to rent it out.

Over the years we've had pretty good tenants, mostly students. They've been a little noisy from time to time, but they've kept the condo nice and they've always paid their rent on time, which is what we care about mostly.

Last week, however, I got a notice from the condo association saying that the trustees had voted to bar owners from renting their units in the future. I don't think this is fair to change the rules on existing owners. I can see maybe passing a rule that forbids future owners from renting their units. But we bought our unit under different rules and it doesn't seem fair to change the rules on us now. Do we have any legal recourse?

ANSWER: Not much, I'm afraid. If the new rules were enacted according to the practices and procedures established by the condo association bylaws for such matters, there's likely very little legal recourse open to you.

Under the state's condo statute, condo associations have broad authority to establish rules and policies governing the management of the property and its common areas. The trustees must, of course, adhere to the procedures established by the condo bylaws for passing new rules, and cannot engage in any discriminatory practices in either passing or implementing rules -- for example, passing a rule that bars pets in the complex and then forbidding a blind person to keep a seeing eye dog.

I understand your disappointment and anger at seeing the rules change since you bought your unit 10 years ago. But investor owners are not a protected class and rules forbidding them from renting their units are not discriminatory. In fact, believe it or not, many condo associations have similar rules forbidding owners from renting their units.

Rather than filing a costly and what is most likely to be a hopeless lawsuit, you might instead try to become a member of the association's governing body and put forward your view and influence that way. You might also try to negotiate with the trustees over the new rules -- asking if they would be amenable to a long-term rental, for example, or input in selecting tenants.

If you cannot change any minds, you do not seem to have any recourse but to sell the unit when the current tenant's lease term expires (unless, of course, you and your husband want to sell your house and move into the condo).

Linda Goodspeed is a longtime real estate writer and author of “In and out of Darkness.” Email her at: lrgoodspeed@comcast.net.