This case was before the Court on two separate occasions, two years apart. This Condominium (a large luxury condominium in Philadelphia was most recently represented as the Plaintiff in this case by its general legal counsel, Gary A. Krimstock, Esquire, an experienced community association lawyer and senior partner, assisted by Joshua Horvitz, Esquire, both of the Philadelphia firm of Fineman Krekstein & Harris, PC.
The circumstances in this case are unfortunately all too common today in our modern community associations. The Defendant unit owner was a single person, a woman, who lived alone. While she had been a well-functioning individual and career worker for most of her life, as she became older she grew ill, frail, ill-tempered, irrational, and reclusive to an extreme. Whatever family or social relationships and support system she may have had in the past, had now deteriorated and disappeared. She could not adequately care for herself, and no one made any efforts , or was available, to provide care for her. Neither she nor any attorney ever responded to any of the numerous letters and notices sent to her by the Association. Attempts were made to solicit help or intervention from family, prior attorneys, friends, and government/social agencies, but all to no avail.
The unfortunate result of all these factors was a “perfect storm” of problems for her immediate neighbors, the staff, management and governing board of the Association. She barricaded herself in her high-rise unit, refused admittance to Association staff, the Licenses and Inspection agents, and even the Fire Department. She had dozens of home shopping purchase packages delivered regularly, which she eventually took into her unit, but no trash ever came out. Her lack of cleaning caused a serious odor, insect and rodent problem for the adjacent neighbors. The trash accumulation in her unit created a fire hazard, and eventually required attention by the Fire Department. She threatened to sue anyone who tried to enter her unit, and warned that she was standing at the door and would be injured if anyone gained entry by force. Of course, she changed the locks on her door and refused to give the keys to the Association. However, she did pay her condominium assessments when due.
Since she denied access to her unit, the Association could not inspect for violations, and she was eventually fined for refusing to provide door keys to Management. The Department of Licenses and Inspections could not gain access so they would not cite her for any building or health code violations. Everyone was reluctant to use force to gain entry to the unit, even though the Association does have the right of access and an easement over her unit. The City’s Department of Licenses and Inspections and Fire Department do have the right to break and enter under their police power. As the situation grew more dangerous, the Association finally decided to seek a remedy through the courts.
A Complaint in Equity with a Petition for a Temporary Restraining Order was filed with the Court seeking emergency and immediate relief. Service was attempted on the Owner, but she would not open her door. Notice was mailed to her mailbox and placed under her door. The Judge heard the argument on behalf of the Association, and no one appeared for the Owner. Understanding the gravity of the situation, the Court granted the Association’s request and ordered the Owner to allow access for an inspection by the Association and the Licenses and Inspections agents, with the assistance if necessary of the Police, the Sheriff, and representatives from the City’s Mental Health Department. Depending upon the conditions observed during such inspection, the Association was permitted to clean, sanitize, and repair the Unit and its contents, and to remove the Owner during that process by providing hotel accommodations if necessary, all at the Owner’s expense, including the Association’s attorney’s fees. The Owner was given notice of this Order in the same manner as before, which was now authorized by the Court. When the Owner again refused entry on the appointed day, the Sheriff’s two deputies ordered the Association’s locksmith to drill out the locks and open the door. After inspection of the deplorable conditions inside the Unit and the status of the Owner, the Mental Health agents ordered the Owner to be involuntarily committed for a mental evaluation. Despite the urging of all present, the Owner had to be forcibly removed by four Police officers. The subsequent cleaning and restoration process took three weeks and cost about $18,000, and the attorney’s fees were about the same.
It is a tragedy that this series of events had to occur, but it demonstrates the importance of prompt action by a condominium association to enforce its rules to abate a nuisance and preserve peaceful enjoyment of the property for all its residents. Court intervention is available and prudent in such circumstances, although self help is also permitted. In this case, the Court’s action was prompt, but only because the compelling record of these egregious facts developed over a long period of time (involving Court intervention two years earlier), and all the persistent and exhaustive efforts of the Association and City agencies had all been frustrated and to no avail.
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