Saturday, October 2, 2010

The Condo Complex Loophole: What it is, and why it needs to be closed.

People don’t realize it, but some of the worst “apartments” in Houston are actually condominiums. The infamous Candlelight Trails complex was condominiums; and there are countless others across the City.

If you’re familiar with how the City enforces its codes, this should come as no surprise. An apartment complex is a single property. If the property has code violations or other problems, there’s only one owner to go after. And go after them Houston has. They've used a combination of sticks and carrots to change apartment complexes. They've got a long way to go, but the improvements are starting to be seen.

In a condo complex, each unit is a separate property, and may have a separate owner. If there are problems, each of those owners has to be contacted. They all must agree on any repairs to be made. And if the complex needs to be condemned - as was the case at the Candlelight Trails - the City needs to sue each of the owners individually. It’s much more time consuming for the City, and expensive for the taxpayer.

I call it the Condo Complex Loophole, and slum lords use it to their advantage. They buy a controlling portion of a condo complex, and then rent them out to unsuspecting tenants. It’s a devilish way of avoiding City enforcement, and it can really hurt innocent owners. At the Candlelight Trails, a widowed mother of three was hit with $200,000 in legal fees - because of a Dallas based slum lord who took advantage of the Condo Complex Loophole.

Hopefully the City will do something to close the Condo Complex Loophole. It's hard to tell what they can do - they can't outlaw condominiums or sue owners without contacting them. But the Condo Complex Loophole protects slum lords. It’s unfair to neighbors, it’s unfair to tenants, and it’s unfair to honest owners.

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