Town sides with outraged residents after condo tries hiking fees 300%
By Dave Hutchinson
24 August 2016

The common element maintenance fees for 40 affordable units in this 250 unit townhouse complex have been subsidized by the majority of the unit owners for the last 36 years. Either now, or in four years time, the subsidies will end.

The residents in the affordable units say they will not be able to pay the increase in fees.

This is a dilemma that may face the residents of all subsidized condo units once the units stop being subsidized.

The Cedar Brook at Branchburg condominium association has proposed a nearly 300 percent increase in the association fees of affordable unit residents while market rate unit will receive a decrease. (Photos by Dave Hutchinson | NJ Advance Media for

The Township Committee has sided with residents of affordable-housing units in a picturesque condominium community who are outraged over a proposed increase of nearly 300 percent in their association fees.

If the increase is allowed, association fees being paid by residents in affordable units would go from $94 per month to $188.50 in 2017 to $281.32 in 2018. Conversely, the fees being paid by the 210 market rate units will decrease from $317.00 per month to $299.00 in 2017 to $281.32 in 2018, according to information provided by residents in an email.

In July, the Cedar Brook at Branchburg Condominium Association sent a letter to residents of the 40 Affordable Income Housing Units informing them that their units aren't being properly assessed pursuant to current state regulations.

a 30-year charter

But when the condominiums were sold beginning in July 1992, the township and developer K Hovnanian entered into a 30-year charter in which 40 of the 250 units would be set aside as affordable units and association fees of those units couldn't be raised without the township approval, said Gregory J. Bonin, Township Administrator.

Residents are concerned. We can't afford this.

"We asked the board members what would they do if they were facing such an increase in their fees and they didn't have an answer," said Max Stepanchenko, who owns an affordable unit. "Residents are concerned. We can't afford this."

Karen Miller, an attorney with Mcgovern Legal Services, LLC, which represents Cedar Brook, said the association wants to raise the fees to be in compliance with the Uniform Housing Affordability Controls regulations.

the regulations were amended

On Dec. 20, 2004, the regulations were amended to provide that there should be no distinction in assessments between affordable units and market rate units.

The condominium association is seeking to amend its Master Deed and Bylaws to comply with the law, said Miller.

However, the regulations also state that any units built before Oct. 1, 2001 can maintain their current agreement written in an ordinance regarding fees. Cedar Brook has a Master Deed and Bylaws, not an ordinance.

Residents feel that there not being an ordinance as oppose to a Master Deed and Bylaws is a loophole that the association is trying to exploit in order to raise their fees, said Stepanchenko.

"The township committee is not in favor of an increase," said Bonin. "A lot of these residents are on a fixed income. They're living in an affordable unit because they can't afford a regular unit and its accompanying fees."

In a letter to the condo association, resident Daniel Payne wrote that a nearly $200 monthly increase would be "better allocated to managing my wife's Multiple Sclerosis, my neighbor's son's Autism, or helping to keep my elderly neighbor in her own home instead of senior care."

low-income families pay 33-and-a-third percent of the assessed market rate unit's association fees

Under the current agreement, the Master Deed on file with the township clerk's office and the Bylaws of Cedar Brook complex give low-income families relief by allowing them to pay 33-and-a-third percent of the assessed market rate unit's association fees, said Bonin.

The condominium association board had scheduled a vote at its Aug. 10 meeting to amend portions of the condominium's Master Deed and By-Laws to raise the association fees but complaints from residents and the intervention of the township forced the cancellation of that meeting, said Bonin.

Under the current agreement, the condominium association can't raise the fees of Affordable Unit residents until 2022. Miller said the association is in communications with the township to reach an agreement.

"Obviously, the association doesn't want to make anyone's life more difficult," said Miller. "The goal isn't to disenfranchise anyone. We just want to be in compliance with the law."

During an Aug. 17 meeting, the association board explained to residents why they want to increase their fees. But residents remain upset. Bonin said the condominium association has yet to make a formal request to raise the fees.

"Nothing has been decided," said Miller. "We are in the preliminary stages."

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