Category Archives: Assessments

Special Assessment Surplus Not Returned to Unit Owners

J.P. from Boston writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I am a unit owner and keep the books for a 12-unit, self-managed association in Boston, MA. At issue is disposition of a special assessment surplus. A vote was taken to “replace the roof”. Trustees then obtained bids, selected a contractor (no vote) and the special assessment amount was based on the possibility there would be a cost overrun of $10k (no vote). The trustees “said” any surplus would be refunded pro-rata. Now there IS a surplus and the trustees say they have changed their minds and are exercising their rights, as trustees, to use the surplus for other projects or save in reserve for future years. I and another unit owner are selling and want our pro-rata surplus share refunded. The master deed and bylaws are silent on a surplus situation, only on the right of trustees to impose special assessments for shortfalls. Help, the clock is ticking and this is worth $1,000 each my neighbor and I. Plus what feels like a violation of trustee rights.

Mister Condo replies:

J.P., I am sorry to have not been able to get to your question a bit sooner. I answer all questions on a “first come, first served” basis and I imagine you have already moved on from this unfortunate bit of business. Each state has their own laws about Special Assessments. I am neither an attorney nor an expert is Massachusetts Condo law so I can only offer you my friendly opinion. Special Assessments are a scourge upon condo and HOA living. They typically signify a lack of forethought about common element repair or replacement that should have been budgeted for years ago. Typically, they must be used for the specific intent of what they were levied for. In your case, the Assessment was used as planned but the surplus was not returned to unit owners, which is almost always the case. While the trustees had the best interest of the association in mind when they decided that the surplus should just be rolled over in to the association’s Reserve Fund, I am guessing they overstepped their rights and trampled upon yours in doing so. The question is what can you do about it? Since we are only talking about a thousand dollars, it may not be worth the time and investment of hiring an attorney to sue the association. You can certainly talk to an attorney who is verse in Massachusetts Condo law, but I am guessing they will tell you same thing that I am and that is you would likely have to spend more than a thousand dollars to try and recoup your thousand dollars. Whether to take on that battle is your choice but I think it might be a fool’s errand. Live and learn, my friend. You may have the moral high ground but they have your money. Let’s hope this doesn’t happen to you again. Good luck!

Can the HOA File for Bankruptcy?

X.Y. from New Jersey writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Can an HOA file for bankruptcy in NJ? If the HOA has debts that the HOA cannot pay and keep the property properly maintained and operating? Because of a loophole in the law, a homeowner sued the HOA and lost, but the expenses were sufficient to defend.

Mister Condo replies:

X.Y., it is very unusual for an established HOA to file for bankruptcy, especially without first having the courts appoint a receiver for the association. The receiver would likely levy special assessments against the unit owners to make good on the debts of the association. Since I am neither an attorney nor an expert in New Jersey law regarding common interest communities, I can’t offer an opinion as to the legality of the bankruptcy filing. My guess is that there is no difference between an HOA or any other business filing bankruptcy. However, as I stated at my opening, it would be truly unusual. If the HOA fails to maintain the property it could be sued by a disgruntled unit owner or owners or, in some truly decrepit state of repair, could face condemnation from local authorities. Even that wouldn’t cause a bankruptcy but could force owners out of their units, which might lead to eventual bankruptcy. I am sure there are underlying issues that have set the association on this path. I highly recommend you seek legal advice from qualified local legal counsel before thinking of such a drastic measure. My guess is you will be advised against it and seek another method of satisfying the debts of the association. Good luck!

Common Fee Determination Seems Unfair

B.P. from Litchfield County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I live in a 55 and over condo community and they charge by square footage. The townhouses pay more than the ranches which I don’t think is fair because all of us receive equal services such as plowing, mowing trash pickup, clubhouse use etc. I don’t believe assessing by size of the units is proper. Any comments on this and what we can do to change it?

Mister Condo replies:

B.P., there is very little you can do to change the schedule of common fee assessments and for good reason. The schedule of fees was part and parcel of every unit that was sold in your association. It is a legally binding agreement that both buyer and seller agreed to at the time of purchase. Further, it is an intrinsic part of the condo documents that binds the unit owner to the association. I answered a similar question from a condo owner in Illinois not too long ago. You can find my full answer here: http://askmistercondo.com/validity-of-condo-percentage-of-unit-ownership-questioned/. All the best!

Condo Association Increases Late Fees and Adds Interest Penalties

C.C. from New Haven County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

My Condo Association just sent notification that they are planning to increase late fees on HOA fees to $30 (25 to the association and 5 to the management company). They also plan to assess18% interest rate.

Can I apply both a late fee and an interest rate? Is that legal?

Mister Condo replies:

C.C., as long as the Board followed the rules for changing the assessment schedule and the interest on late fees, I don’t see why they can’t have both late fees and interest on late fees. The bottom line is that timely payment of common fees and assessments is critical to the association’s ability to pay its bills on behalf of all owners. Late fees and interest penalties are really the only tool available to the Board to encourage all unit owners to make their payments on time. Best of all, late fees and interest penalties are easy to avoid. Just make sure every unit owner pays their fees and assessments on time, which is exactly what they agreed to do when they purchased into the association. All the best!

Condo Board Closes Pools Versus Maintaining Them

T.K. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

We have 2 outdoor pools. For the past 2 years, 1 pool has been closed – no reason given. This year, none of the pools are opened. I was planning on attending the yearly board meeting that was to begin at 7 pm last evening. However, upon showing up for it we were told it wouldn’t be starting until 8 pm as they were “running late”. I have my own theory as to why they were delaying. What recourse do we have with regards to our pools not being opened and not being informed as to the situation? Our maintenance fees go up every single year without hesitation. Aren’t they liable to honor the dec’s & bylaws with regards to maintaining & operating the pools? So FED UP!

Mister Condo replies:

T.K., being fed up is a good start. Now, it is time to take action. I am sorry that you and your fellow unit owners are being denied full use of your amenities. Pools are a major amenity for many associations and you are correct that their care and maintenance is the responsibility of the Board. However, many associations fail to collect enough money in common fees to properly handle all of the fiscal responsibilities of the association. Even though as a unit owner, all you see is common fees that go up every year, that is no indication that enough money is being collected. Ultimately, associations need to have really good budgets and really good Reserve Studies adhered to in order to thrive. Would you be surprised if I told you that your common fees may need to rise 20 – 30% for that to happen? Would you support a Board that raised the common fees in order to meet the financial obligations of the association? The problem is that the Board is comprised of democratically elected unit owners who must run for election and reelection to serve their community. If they raise fees, they may not be returned to office as that is always an unpopular course of action. However, I can assure you, if the association ties their hands by not raising enough revenue to operate properly, you can expect your pools to remain closed. That is likely the tip of the iceberg. Are roofs being properly maintained? How about parking lots? How about walkways? Underfunded associations are easy to spot. The problems don’t all appear at once but they do surface. I would encourage you to have a candid conversation with your Board and fellow unit owners. If there is no money to make the repairs, you might want to be the one who suggest that common fees be raised. Without that extra capital to work with, I doubt much will change. Good luck!

Underfunded Condo Association Leaves Common Area Repair to New Owner

S.M. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

One year ago, an owner financed the sale of condo. Now the new owner says there is a serious drainage problem outside back sliding doors. He asked the HOA to fix the problem but there is no money available to do so. The HOA gave the new owner permission to do the job. Then the new owner got city inspectors involved who do concur that there is a major problem. Could the property potentially be condemned? New owner is telling us to either renegotiate our deal, thereby sharing cost of the job, or he will renege on the deal, putting all of the expense back on us. What can be done?

Mister Condo replies:

S.M., HOAs with insufficient funds often make bad decisions. In this case, a really bad decision is coming back to haunt the association. Exterior drainage problems are the problem of the association and should have been repaired by the association, not the unit owner. Further, the correct way to raise money for such a repair is to raise common fees, levy a special assessment, and build a Reserve Fund for future repairs and improvements. The phrase “no money available” indicates to me that there is also no Reserve Study in place and that the common fees have probably been way too low for way too long. The immediate problem facing the association is the possibility of a city inspector condemning the property. While that is an extreme measure, it is possible of the unit is in such disrepair as to cause the inspector to make such a call. Typically, even if a citation is given, the association has enough time to make the repair and avoid condemnation (unless human life is at stake, i.e. a collapsing roof or broken foundation). Assuming the repairs can be made by the association, get an estimate on the job, levy a special assessment or take an HOA loan (if eligible) and handle the repair. Then, sit down and take a good look at the budget for the association. Chances are common fees should be raised this year and for several years to come until the association gets back on sound financial footing. This may prove unpopular with unit owners but it is necessary for the association’s long-term fiscal health and to make sure the Board doesn’t need to make future bad decisions on needed repairs. All the best!

Validity of Condo Percentage of Unit Ownership Questioned

C.B. from Illinois writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Hi, I live in a 48-unit building consisting of 24 2-bedrooms and 24 1-bedroom units. I understand that the 2-bedroom units owns a larger percentage than the one bedroom units and, of course, the assessment fees are more. We just had a new elevator upgrade which cost the 2-bedroom unit owners a percentage more, now we are able to have another special assessment to re-pave our parking lot, then next year will be our balconies. While I understand somewhat WHY a 2-bedroom unit owner would have to be pay more in assessments, I’m still baffled as to why they would be required to pay more toward some common areas that is equally used by everyone in the building. In this case, the elevator upgrade, the parking lot repavement. Building has 47 parking spaces that, in my opinion, are equally being used by each unit owner. Can you give me a simple straightforward answer as to WHY this is the case and, if this could be changed? Thank you!

Mister Condo replies:

C.B., the percentage of unit ownership formula is commonly used by HOAs and is the de facto standard for determining who owes what when it comes to common fees and special assessments. It is tried and proven and almost impossible to change. It certainly makes sense when thinking about the ownership ratio of the association. These owners physically own more space of their own and, in theory, use more of the common elements. A second bedroom is indicative of either more permanent residents or overnight guests. More occupants means more wear and tear on the common elements. What other formula is simple enough to take that into account when deciding when dealing with the financial responsibilities of the association. These units simply consume more of the association’s resources. While your analogy of the parking space is spot on, it is one of the few times that argument would hold water. Also, since the percentage of unit ownership was in place at the time the unit owners purchased their units, it is not a surprise or unfair to the unit owner when these assessments come due. It is quite simply the law of the land in the HOA world, has been since the beginning of common interest communities, and is likely to outlive us all. All the best!

Condo Move In Fees Create Budget Excess!

J.G. from Illinois writes:

I’ve tried submitting this blog question online, but I keep getting an error message saying I didn’t enter the “recaptcha” correctly.  It’s just a check box, so I’m not sure what I’m doing wrong.  I hope you’ll consider this question for your blog. We’re trying to determine the proper treatment of fees collected that are outside the normal monthly assessments.  We have a move-in fee and occasionally collect late fees for monthly assessments.

Our condo rules state:

“There is a $500.00 fee for moving in that is non-refundable to cover cleaning and future rekeying of the building. ”

Our condo declaration states:

“…the Board shall supply to all unit owners an itemized accounting of the common expenses for the preceding year actually incurred and paid, together with a tabulation of the amounts collected pursuant to the budget or assessments, and showing the net excess or deficit of income over expenditures plus reserves.  Any amount accumulated in excess of the amount required for actual expenses and reserves shall be credited … to the next monthly installments due…”

The IL Condo Act gives the Board the right to determine how to distribute excess as long as it’s not prescribed in the condo documents.

We’re expecting an excess this year due to a large number of unit turnovers.   Are we obligated to credit this to the owners?  Or, can we move any excess to reserves since it wasn’t “collected pursuant to the budget” (i.e. not part of the budget that all owners paid assessments for)? Thanks for any advice, opinions, or references!

Mister Condo replies:

J.G., I am sorry if the “recaptcha” tripped you up and I am glad that you emailed me instead. The “recaptcha” is needed due to deter the large amount of attempted SPAM that used to flood the website. Thank you for your vigilance. I am neither and attorney nor an expert in Illinois condo law so please accept my advice as friendly and not legal. For a legal opinion, you should contact a local attorney who specializes in community association law. At face value, I would say that you should return any monies that were over-collected before simply depositing them to the Reserve Fund. This would be in keeping with the spirit and intention of the law which is to protect homeowners from paying more than needed or agreed to in their vote to approve the budget at the Annual Meeting. At the very least, I would offer the unit owners a vote on how to use those funds at next year’s Annual Meeting. Chances are, it isn’t such a large amount that you would get much pushback to moving the funds to the Reserve Fund where it can be used to protect all unit owners. I salute your thinking and commend you for increasing your Reserve Fund but my advice is to follow the spirit and intention of the law and even your own governing documents so that no init owner can cry foul and demand their money back. All the best!

Fairness of Condo Common Fees Questioned

A.L. from Hartford County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Mr. Condo, how should HOA fees be calculated in a condo association in the State of Connecticut? Is it fair that everyone pay the same fee every month even if all the units are not the same size?

Mister Condo replies:

A.L., common fees are typically defined in the condo governing documents and usually are derived using the percentage of unit ownership formula which does take square footage into consideration. However, neither the state nor the governing documents require the use of this formula and there are many other perfectly legitimate methods of determining common fees. The only universal rule is that the governing documents dictate the formula and that formula can only be changed by very strict rules for doing so. It is extremely uncommon for the formula to be changed and typically requires a full consent vote of the unit owners and, many times, even the mortgage holders of the units. Some of the other factors that I have seen that determine common fee allotment include: water-view versus non-water-view, top floors versus middle and bottom floor units in a high-rise, and end units versus middle units. Some associations like yours use a simple “everyone pays the same” common fee, which may not be fair, but is certainly not illegal and is well known before anyone purchases into the association. There isn’t too much you can do about it, A.L., as changing the common fee schedule is a major legislative ordeal. You can talk to your Board but I doubt you will see things change. Good luck!

Rules for Condo Special Assessment

R.F. from Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

In Connecticut, can a special assessment be levied, with a vote by homeowners to paint buildings, repair buildings, labor and material? Can the Board of directors create a special assessment, by vote from homeowners for capital improvements which is patently a capital expense?

Mister Condo replies:

R.F., the rules for levying special assessments are determined by a few things, including the association’s own rules and state law. If the homeowners were allowed to vote, then, typically, the assessment would be deemed valid. Of course, all of the rules for giving proper notice of the vote would have to have been followed and all of the rules for conducting the vote would have to have also been followed. It sounds to me like that is what happened. The underlying issue is why was there a need for a special assessment for a capital expense that has likely been known about for years. You might want to suggest the Board conduct a Reserve Study and then present a plan for funding the Reserve fund so future capital expenses can be paid for out of Reserves and not via special assessment. All the best!