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Maryland Court Decisions Bring Uncertainty To Resale Disclosure Requirements

The interpretation of condominium resale disclosure requirements remains unclear as a result of certain Maryland court decisions and the Maryland General Assembly’s failure to provide clarification  during the 2013 Session.  Those disclosure requirements are intended to provide prospective condominium purchasers with sufficient information about potential expenses so as to permit them to make an informed purchase decision.  Uncertainty arose when the Maryland Court of Appeals, in a footnote concerning an issue not even before the Court, offered the opinion that the required disclosure of known code violations, at the time of resale of a unit, under Section 11-135 of the Maryland Condominium Act, refers only to “charged violations.”  While this observation was offered in dicta, and is not binding law, it suggested that knowledge of building or health code violations, that ultimately could lead to expensive repairs, need not be disclosed to a would-be purchaser unless the condition had been formally cited by the local code authority.  During the 2013 session, legislation was considered that would have touched on this issue by requiring disclosure of “potential” special assessments, but the proposed new law was never enacted.  Subsequently, in at least one unreported opinion, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals relied on the Court of Appeals statement to hold that knowledge of a violation requires “notice or citation from an official enforcement agency.”  While the unreported opinion is also not binding law, the two decisions have clearly suggested a limited disclosure requirement that may not provide the level of information intended by the statute. (more…)

Significant Maryland Condominium Arbitration Award Confirmed By Balitmore City Circuit Court

Ober|Kaler Construction Group principal Raymond D. Burke and associates Mathew T. Vocci and Jackson B. Boyd secured judicial confirmation earlier this year in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City of a significant arbitration award on behalf of the owner of a penthouse condominium unit located at 100 Harborview Drive in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor.  The Circuit Court’s confirmation of the $1,252,487 arbitration award resulted in what is believed to be Maryland’s largest judgment against a condominium council of unit owners for its failure to maintain, repair, and replace the common elements of a condominium building (in this case, the roof system, exterior façade, and HVAC ductwork of a 27-story high-rise).  The Circuit Court also confirmed the arbitration award’s order of specific performance, which requires the condominium’s council of unit owners to replace the building’s roof system, repair its exterior façade, clean its HVAC ductwork, and insulate its rooftop exterior HVAC ductwork.  The value of the work required by the specific performance order is approximately $6 million. (more…)

Disclosure of Code Violations In Maryland Condo Resale Certificates May Mean Only “Charged Violations”

As condominium boards and property managers should well know, Section 11-135 of the Maryland Condominium Act imposes a duty on councils of unit owners to provide unit purchasers with a resale certificate whenever a unit is being re-sold.  One significant disclosure that must be made in a resale certificate is “[a] statement as to whether the council of unit owners has knowledge of any violation of the health or building codes with respect to the unit, the limited common elements assigned to the unit, or any other portion of the condominium.”  This, of course, gives rise to the question of what constitutes “knowledge” of a code violation for disclosure purposes.  The Maryland Court of Appeals recently addressed this issue, but only in a footnote contained in MRA Property Management, Inc. v. Armstrong,  426 Md. 83, 43 A. 3d 397 (2012).   While the issue was not actually before the Court, it, nevertheless, took the unusual step of considering the question, and concluded that the disclosure requirement involves only “charged violations;” that is, only violations as to which a formal violation notice has been issued by the code authority.  It can certainly be argued that “knowledge” of a code violation includes knowing that a deviation from a code requirement exists, such as in the form of an engineer’s report, and that such information is highly relevant to a consideration of what maintenance and repair costs may confront the unit purchaser.  However, the Court’s voluntary discussion of this issue, while only dicta, certainly indicates the direction and narrow reading of the statute the Court may take if the issue were to be placed squarely before it. (more…)

Maryland Court of Special Appeals Precludes Use of Differential Diagnosis To Support A Causal Connection Between Exposure To Mold And Human Illness

Mold exposure in damp buildings has become an increasing subject of litigation over the last decade.  Often times, these claims are supported by a medical analysis called differential diagnosis.  This method as been used by physicians to attribute various symptoms to inhalation of mold in water-damaged buildings.  Rather than demonstrating a specific exposure to a specific mold resulting in a specific reaction,  differential diagnosis uses a process that “rules out” or “rules in” possible causes of symptoms a patient is experiencing to determine that their symptoms are related to exposure to mold.  Differential diagnosis has been frequently used to show an association between exposure to mold in wet buildings and certain human health effects.  In its opinion in the case of Montgomery Mutual Insurance Co. v. Chesson, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals held that this method is not sufficiently accepted in the scientific community so as to be used as a basis for medical testimony in mold cases.  The Court of Special Appeals reversed a trial court ruling that found such medical testimony to be reliable and admissible.

The Harborview Condominium Case

I am frequently asked to discuss my representation of the owner of a multi-million dollar penthouse condominium unit on the top floor of a residential high-rise building on Baltimore’s Inner Harbor known as Harborview Condominium.  The claim concerned the failure of the Condominium’s Council of Unit Owners to correct defects in the common elements of the roof, exterior façade and HVAC system.  These defects were alleged to have permitted water intrusion through the exterior envelope and into the Plaintiff’s unit, resulting in damage to building components, interior finishes and furnishings and other personal property, along with microbial contamination, which rendered the unit uninhabitable. 

The case was tried over five days before a three-judge arbitration panel in September 2011.  In November 2011, the arbitration panel awarded the Plaintiff cash damages in the amount of $1,252,487, representing the cost to repair damage to the unit and to remediate the environmental contamination, along with alternative living expenses and other related costs.  The panel also issued a specific performance award directing the Condominium to undertake an identified scope of work to repair to the roof, exterior façade and HVAC system.  The value of the repair is approximately $5,000.000.  The panel ordered that the HVAC repairs be completed within 60 days, and that the remaining building repairs be completed by December 2013. (more…)