Reader question: We live in a 75-lot development completed in the early 1990s. We do not have an HOA. Our problem is we are on our own for upkeep and repair to communal areas. We have garage sales and take up collections and pitch in when the need arises. The entrance to the subdivision has a beautiful island fountain. The city unilaterally decided they no longer wanted to pay for the fountain water supply. They went ahead and disabled the supply line to the fountain after supplying fountain water since the subdivision's inception. We have been unable to find documentation that describes the city's responsibility to provide the water. Your thoughts, please.
Monty's answer: The situation you describe sounds like a misunderstanding and possibly a mix-up with communications. The problem may be that there is no documentation. Let's take a look at some potential actions to get to the heart of the issue.
A plat of survey
The local register of deeds office has the plat of survey. One of the bits of information that may be helpful is the name of the company or developer that platted the subdivision. That person or company may have substantial knowledge in their files or even remember what was negotiated to obtain the approvals. The land surveyor that signed the survey may have similar records as well. It is not unusual that the plat may contain covenants that will lead to other sources of documentation.
The civil engineers
Another source of information is the engineering firm that designed the sewer and water system for the subdivision. They typically attend meetings and work with the municipal engineer to get approvals. They also can be responsible for negotiating agreements with municipalities. You may also learn if the city handled other recorded subdivisions during that period in the same fashion as your subdivision. Relief may be simpler to obtain if your 75 lots were treated differently.
Many municipalities have designated persons to deal with citizen issues and divide the city into areas with boundaries. They act as ombudsmen and carry problems back to the council. Standard titles are trustee, council representative, ward captain or alderman. Have you checked to see what type of government exists in the municipality? The structure of government may be on their website.
Start with these three leads and see where it takes you. Also, consider forming a group of other property owners to get involved and help you. Your efforts could lead to a situation where, ultimately, you will need to push the municipality. You may need to have people in the subdivision chip-in on the legal fees if that becomes necessary. Here is a link to an article about how to find an excellent real estate attorney.
As a last resort, a local television station or newspaper may be very interested in this story. Seventy-five voters perceived as not being treated fairly can make a difference in an election.
Richard Montgomery is the author of "House Money - An Insider’s Secrets to Saving Thousands When You Buy or Sell a Home." He is a real estate industry veteran who advocates industry reform and offers readers unbiased real estate advice. Find him at DearMonty.com.