Board of my building decided to charge me $14K

17 Replies

I lease an apartment in DC and have been smoking in my bathroom for the last couple months because it started to get very cold outside. One day I was served a letter saying i had to appear to a board meeting. The letter stated that there were 4 separate reoccurring complaints of smoke coming through the ventilation. I immediately stopped smoking and yet they say they still receive complaints of smoke weeks after i stopped. In retrospect i shouldn't have gone to this meeting without a lawyer.

They have assessed $4k of infractions and an additional 10K in legal fees to have a lawyer mediate on their behalf.

This is the most absurd fine Ive ever gotten. What are my options? Is it worth to fight this?

Other than you admitting to it here, can they prove it?  How can they prove that the smoke came from your unit?  It is a ventilation system.  What if someone had visitors and they smoked?  There is no smoke test?  Is there evidence (ex. video) of you smoking in the bathroom?  I would challenge that.  Due to the amount it would not go to small claims and jury of your peers would rule in your favor.  They would try to have you go to mediation with the board.  Your board needs something else to do.  Don't let them try to intimidate you.  Push come to shove bring the local news into it.  

Also there was a case in DC a few years ago where a neighbor was suing another neighbor for smoke coming through the walls.  It was for some crazy amount, the neighbor (plantiff) is still trying to settle for a lower amount.  The defendant is not budging.  Lawyers get tired of frivolous complaints.  Reach out to the ACLU for Georgetown law clinic If you need legal counsel.

Good luck. 

The fact is you are leasing - which means you don't OWN the place you live in, and judging by your fine, you're probably smoking in a property you shouldn't be smoking in. Somebody else now has to deal with that mess.  There's probably something in your lease saying no smoking in the apartment.  If you violated the lease, you violated the lease.  If you're the type of person that believes the rules don't apply to you when it's cold outside then you fit into the category of "Bad Tenant".  

Smoke is not easy to get out of walls.  It takes a buttload of time, effort, and money to clean that up, and it doesn't just go away after a couple weeks - somebody has to scrub that crap off the walls, floors, cabinets, vents, curtains, furniture, clothes - literally EVERYTHING. 

FYI - This is a community made up of Real Estate investors, landlords, property owners, etc... you're not going to find much, if any sympathy here.  If I were your landlord I would evict you.

They had a board meeting in which my landlord flew out to attend. They told me they did smoke test with property management and singled it out to my unit.  I told them i was smoking in my unit but i stopped.  Ive never received formal warnings, phone call or anything. Just served paper with 4 complaints at one time. 

What you're referring to is cigarette smoke. Not the case here. I live in the only place on the east coast where possession is legal. First 4 complaints were smoke, which i stopped completely.  Then it was "smell" complaints, which i think they are making up.

Considering my lease is close to 60k/yr and I pay on time, the landlord doesn't care that I smoke. The board received continuous complaints that caused $14k in liabilities to me. I  never got 1 phone call,  no email, no direct line of communication saying there was a problem with my unit. Hows is fair?  Ive had lawyer on retainer who never charged this much.



I assume you were smoking pot? That is worse than cigarette smoke and not only does it smell but others were breathing it in and getting high without wanting too  - that really sucks.. 

I think you need to get an attorney. 

@Mary Mitchell contact high through ventilation system is EXTREMELY unlikely.

https://teens.drugabuse.gov/blog/post/secondhand-m...

I agree OP needs an attorney. 

@Dave Adell you should set up your account not to show your last name and get an attorney. Also, what does you lease say regarding the use of marijuana? smoking? Who did the board assess? you or your landlord? Did you landlord get complaints and fail to pass them along to you? Were you given something in writing from the board? What does your lease say about infractions and HOA assesments? What did your landlord say at the conclusion of the board meeting?

@Dave Adell

1. Read the lease to see what violations have occurred.

2. Read the CC&R's to see what violations have occurred.

3. If violations have occurred, seek legal counsel.

As this is a forum for investments and not necessarily legal remedies for tenant violations which you have committed, you'd be best to speak with a local attorney who specializes in such matters. 

I personally don't like HOA's and how they bully people and hope you can come out of this unscathed, but rules are rules and if you're in the wrong, you may have to pay.

@Dave Adell I'm not making excuses for what you did. I assume you smoked in the bathroom because you knew it wasn't allowed (no matter the substance). That said - the HOA cannot fine you - they fine the property owner. Find out from your landlord how much they want to battle here - you certainly don't want to run up more legal fees - but you may get the fine reduced. If you want to stay and your landlord allows you to stay - then suck it up and pay.

@Dave Adell I totally skipped over that you were leasing.  Definitely review the lease and reach out to an attorney.  I don't know what a "smoke test" is.  Is the building no smoking?  Are you not allowed to smoke in the unit?  As an owner I would not be happy with having to fly in to address an issue like this.  I would be more annoyed with the board.  There is a another case in DC where a woman wanted to set up a business (where patrons smoked) in her apartment and there were ventilation complaints.  Not sure if she owned the unit.  The earlier example was cigarettes.    The new law is bringing up a lot of questions in DC.  It is legal in DC but still illegal according to federal laws.  Also how do existing structures deal with this.  If I was in the building I would not want to smell it but I don't know what could be done according to law.  It is very hard to get rid of those smells and it leaves stains on the walls.

If you as re leasing, I dont see what power a condo association has over you to fine you? They cant lien your condo, because you dont own it.

I have it written in my lease that any fines I receive from the HOA are passed on to the tenant, if they have committed the infraction. Would be worth talking to your lawyer. My HOA has send me threatening letters about things over which they have no actual legal authority.

Lawyer up, sounds like you pissed off quite a few people and if your rent is as high as you say, then they can afford to really give you a hard time. Which they should, I mean, this was hilariously selfish of you (and this coming from a fellow ent)

The demand is high because they know they are going to settle, which means you need to fight to get it to a reasonable number.

You're also going to be evicted, I would find a new place.

@Dave Adell Here in Illinois, condo violations typically needs to be punished with progressive discipline. For them to go from no warning to $4,000 fine is ridiculous. Lawyer up and fight it. Also the “smoke test” is ridiculous. That’s a bluff bully move. Read the rules and terms of your lease and go from there. Especially read the condominium rules and regulations.

Review your lease with an attorney. Did you agree to a no smoking policy in or attached to the lease? If you did the only thing you can protest is the amount of the fine. 10K seems a bit high for a lawyer to draft a letter.

Free eBook from BiggerPockets!

Ultimate Beginner's Guide Book Cover

Join BiggerPockets and get The Ultimate Beginner's Guide to Real Estate Investing for FREE - read by more than 100,000 people - AND get exclusive real estate investing tips, tricks and techniques delivered straight to your inbox twice weekly!

  • Actionable advice for getting started,
  • Discover the 10 Most Lucrative Real Estate Niches,
  • Learn how to get started with or without money,
  • Explore Real-Life Strategies for Building Wealth,
  • And a LOT more.

We hate spam just as much as you

Create Lasting Wealth Through Real Estate

Join the millions of people achieving financial freedom through the power of real estate investing

Start here