Legal Matters: What are the options when facing a lien against one's condo unit?

A reader who faces a lien against his condominium unit wants to know how to deal with the situation.

He could sit down with a copy of the Maryland Condominium Act, an article of state law that covers subjects from procedures to terminate a lease to owners’ rights in common areas.


He could also review the bylaws that he should have received when he bought the unit. Bylaws are legally required to create “a condominium regime,” that is, property owned as a condominium.

Or he could sit down with an attorney familiar with condominium law to advise him on his rights and duties.

Condominium bylaws address whether unit owners can delegate some responsibilities for oversight of the condominium to an elected board of directors, how directors can be removed and whether unit owners with unpaid liens can be banned from voting.

The bylaws may cover matters such as the color of carpeting in common areas, whether children or pets are allowed, limitations on rights to rent your unit to a tenant, parking restrictions and similar aspects of living.

So, what does someone who buys a condominium unit actually own? He owns the unit he lives in, plus an undivided percentage interest in the common elements. If there were 10 units in a condominium with a shared community room, for example, no individual owner would have the right to block off one-tenth of the community room for his personal use, even though he owns 10 per cent of it.

Individual owners are automatically members of a condominium’s Council of Unit Owners, which is responsible for entering into contracts, enforcing documents and maintaining common elements, according to “Understanding Condominium Living,” published by the Office of the Attorney General.

Condominiums usually have a board of directors to administer rules and make management decisions, which the board can do without approval of the unit owners.

The statute gives the board authority to collect money needed to keep the condominium in the black.

If a unit owner fails to pay, the board can place a lien on the unit for unpaid items such as repair costs for the individual unit or his share of repair costs for common areas. A lien can also be placed if the owner fails to pay assessments.

If the board cites a unit owner for a violation and the owner fails to fix it within a specified time, the board will hold a hearing and may fine the owner. Unpaid fines may become liens against the property.

To create an enforceable lien under the Maryland Contract Lien Act, the individual or agency seeking the lien must notify the property owner of the intent to create a lien, the reason for creating it and the alleged damages.

The condominium act limits liability of an individual owner for damages resulting from injuries arising from the common elements to his percentage interest in those elements, unless he had some involvement other than his percentage interest in the incident that caused injury.

Unit owners are also limited to their percentage interest for payment of liabilities incurred by the council of unit owners.