Court rules against owners of Towson high-rise condos Businesses' customers can't be kept from lobby

August 28, 1996|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,SUN STAFF

Residents of a Towson condominium cannot prohibit businesses in the complex from having customers use the lobby as an entrance, the state's highest court ruled yesterday.

The Court of Appeals said Ridgely Condominium Association Inc. could not require clients of an accountant to use the outside entrance to his first-floor office in the 28-story building in the 200 block of E. Joppa Road.

The accountant said yesterday that the case cost him $20,000, but that he fought it out of principle and it was worth it.

"It's great news," said Nicholas Smyrnioudis Jr.

But the ruling disappointed the lawyer for the condominium association, whose members voted for the restriction by an overwhelmingly margin because of security concerns.

"It's a decision that's just not giving any credence to democratic action," said S. Leonard Rottman.

Smyrnioudis won a 1994 order from Baltimore County Circuit Judge John F. Fader II prohibiting the association from enforcing a 1991 bylaw that would have required the accountant's customers to use his exterior ground-level office entrance.

The court yesterday affirmed Fader, ruling that the bylaw violated the Maryland Condominium Act, which guarantees condominium owners and tenants access to common areas.

"The bylaw amendment disparately affected a portion of the unit owners by revoking a property interest they acquired when they purchased their units," Judge Robert C. Murphy wrote for a unanimous court.

The bylaw would have placed similar restrictions on the customers of six other businesses in the building.

Smyrnioudis had spent $38,000 redesigning his office so clients could enter through the lobby, which had been remodeled for $100,000 with marble and ornate woodwork. "It's really a beautiful way for clients to come into an office," he said.

Smyrnioudis said the condo association became concerned about security a few years ago when a pizza deliveryman gave FTC the lobby receptionist the accountant's name to get past her, then boarded an elevator and distributed discount coupons around the upper-level hallways.

"He [the delivery man] could have used anybody's name, but he used mine," Smyrnioudis said.

But Rottman said the condo association has legitimate concerns about security.

The bylaw was approved by 66.6 percent of the association membership and only two of 239 unit owners in the building objected to it, he said.

"While the rights of the minority must be protected, the will of the majority should be respected," he wrote in a brief filed with the court.

He said that visitors who come to see residents almost always check in with the receptionist's desk in the lobby. But business customers often breeze past the desk, going right to the first-floor shops that are around the corner from the desk near the elevators.

Phyllis Yuengling, the condominium's assistant manager, said residents "just want to keep business customers from wandering the building unescorted."

Pub Date: 8/28/96

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