Category Archives: Common Fees

Late Fees on Condo Special Assessment

R.S. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Can late fees be charged on special assessments if the condo documents allow late fees on assessments but do not specifically state late fees are allowed on “special assessments”? Are “special assessment” just assessments when it comes to late fees?

Mister Condo replies:

R.S., unless your documents specifically address the difference between Special Assessments and assessments (common fees), my advice would be to treat the two the same. That means that Special Assessments that are not paid in timely fashion would be subject to the same late fees that would apply when any assessment is due. There are exceptions, of course, and I have seen 30-day and longer “grace” periods offered by associations that are trying to alleviate the burden of “immediateness” to the unit owner struggling to pay the Special Assessment. However, at the end of the day, late is late, and the association needs as many collection tools at its disposal as possible. Late fees are the least of a delinquent unit owners’ problem as collection actions and expenses are likely to ensue. Of course, the best policy is for the association to adequately fund their Reserve Fund so that Special Assessments are the true exception and not the planned method of collecting funds as major capital improvements surface. Special Assessments put both the unit owner and the Association at risk. It is better to have regular common fees set at a high enough level that Special Assessments are rarely, if ever, needed. Good luck!

Condo Board Liability for Underfunding the Reserve Fund

G.H. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

What are the recommended best practices for boards to abide by when deciding whether, or not, to adjust annual Reserve Fund contributions to take inflation and interest on reserves into account? Is there any liability assumed by a Board if they do not take these two factors into account when finalizing the annual budget and establishing the HOA’s contribution to its’ reserve fund?

Mister Condo replies:

G.H., there are several states that have enacted legislation to force associations to use Reserve Studies and to adjust their common fee contributions to keep the Reserve Fund at adequate levels. A list of these states can be found at the CAI website at https://www.caionline.org/Advocacy/StateAdvocacy/PriorityIssues/ReserveStudy/Pages/default.aspx. So, if you live in California, Delaware, Hawaii, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, or Virginia, your association is required, by law, to have a Reserve Study in place. The page also lists Washington State as having a statute that “encourages”, not “requires” a Reserve Study to assist the Board in determining the appropriate level of common fees for an association. Even if you don’t live in state where it is mandated, Reserve Studies are vital tools for associations to know that they are following the Best Practices and sound business judgment in running their associations. I am not aware of any liability assumed by the Board for not taking inflation or interest into account when determining Reserve Fund contributions but a well thought out Reserve Study would certainly do so. In other words, if there were $100,000 needed to replace the common elements in 20 years and only $100,000 were budgeted to do so, factors like inflation and interest would likely make that number too low when the time came to actually make the expenditure to replace the common element. On the other hand, a well-funded Reserve Fund can actually offset some of the interest expense by being invested in a reasonably liquid asset, such as a CD. Hope that helps!

No Common Fees Collected on Condo Unit for Six Years!

J.D. from New York writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

In New York, is there a statute of limitations applicable to a condominium where the entity claiming to be the holdover of the mortgage note has three times, without success, sought to hold a public sale? Now, more than six years have passed since the last payment was made (to a bank no longer in existence, having been absorbed into another bank, which – in turn – was merged by the federal government into the entity which has unsuccessfully thrice attempted a public sale). If such statute of limitations exists – would it be found in the CPLR, GOL, or some other statute, rule or regulation?

Mister Condo replies:

J.D., I can only hope this association has had some legal guidance from a qualified attorney during this lengthy period. I am not an attorney so I cannot offer any legal advice in this column. I am not sure how an entity can claim to be a mortgage note holder without providing some type of documentation. The Civil Practice Laws and Rules (CPLR) and General Obligation Law (GOL) may be a great place to start but I would also suggest that the association has a lien on the property enforced by the New York Condominium Act and that whoever owns the unit is liable for the back common fees as provided in the law. An attorney may have also advised that the association foreclose on the unit for unpaid fees due to the association. Clearly, this unit needs to be liquidated one way or another and the association needs to have a dues-paying unit owner using the unit as soon as possible. That may mean taking a write-off but it should get things back on track. Consult with a locally qualified attorney to see what your options are. All the best!

Delinquent in Assessments But Still on the Condo Board

M.K. from Fairfield County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Can members be on the Board who are delinquent in common charges or are in foreclosure?

Mister Condo replies:

M.K., unless the community association governance documents state otherwise, the answer is “yes”. However, unless there are no other candidates for their Board position, there is no reason the association members shouldn’t seek a member in good standing with the association to serve when the next election cycle comes up. Unit owners would be foolish to continue to elect any unit owner delinquent to the association for any reason. How can they expect that this individual will uphold the rules and regulations of the association when some of those rules are aimed at collection activity against the sitting Board member? There are some governing documents that preclude members not in good standing to serve on the Board but that is the exception and not the rule in my experience. Check your documents and see what yours say. And get ready with a replacement candidate for the next election. All the best!

Required Condo Reserve Study in Ohio?

R.D. from Ohio writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

 

In Ohio, can a condo owner act as Associate Treasurer and must there be a Reserve Study of the Association Made?

 

Mister Condo replies:

R.D., I am not an attorney so I cannot speak to specific laws in your state. You can see a graph prepared by the Community Associations Institute (CAI) of what states require Reserve Studies by Statute here. Ohio isn’t listed as a state that does. Additionally, I am not aware of any law that requires Ohio condominiums to conduct Reserve Studies. That being said, many association have rules in their by-laws that require the association to perform routing and preventative maintenance as well as keep the common elements in good working order. A Reserve Study is the perfect tool to keep the association on track financially as the years go by, the elements wear down, and the Reserve Fund is used to replace those worn elements. As for the role of any unit owner to serve as Associate Treasurer or in any other capacity on your Board, you should refer to your governing documents. Typically, Board members are elected from unit owners within the community. I am assuming that the person in question is serving either as a Board Member or as an Appointee of the Board to function as Associate Treasurer. To be honest, I am not that familiar with the title Associate Treasurer. I am assuming that is someone who assists the Treasurer? Do they have the ability to write checks for the Association? If so, the person should be vetted the same way the Treasurer or anyone else is who access to the Association’s funds. Dual signatures, routine audits, etc. should all be part of the Best Practices followed by the association. Best Wishes!

Purchase of Lien and Foreclosure Rights on Delinquent Condo Owner

S.A. from South Florida writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Can an individual purchase the lien and foreclosure rights on a delinquent condo unit? Second, is there a situation where a condo association can foreclose and take possession without going through the auction process? The unit in question has no mortgage and the owners have abandoned the unit. Sorry, one more question, is it the responsibility of the Association to keep the electric on if the unit is abandoned, to protect the neighbors from mold. This is a South Florida condo association.

Mister Condo replies:

S.A., those are all great questions. As you know I am not an attorney and offer no legal advice in this column. You should likely check with one of the many fine community association law forms in your state before taking any actions listed in your question. Let me offer the following friendly advice. Delinquent condo owners, even those who abandon their units have rights, both from the association’s governing documents and state law. If the unit owner is amenable to any of the methods of disposal for their unit as you have outlined, I can’t imagine there being a problem. However, it doesn’t sound like the unit owners are even around to agree with any proposed disposal of their unit. This is where the lawsuits typically begin and the process of foreclosure gets under way. Typically, a unit owner would offer a defense to the action of foreclosure. However, if the legal papers are served and they choose to simply ignore them, the process continues. If the association follows the law, there should be no problem. As far as an individual purchasing the lien and foreclosure rights in order to take possession of the unit, I would personally have a problem with that. The association is the aggrieved party. They should be the recipients of the proceeds from proper resolution of this matter. However, I am not aware of any law that forbids this. Once again, I would suggest speaking with the association attorney about the legality and proper filings. If the attorney says “yes” and you have a willing and able buyer, I would think it would expedite the process and save the association a good bit of time and money. They key to either of these transactions is making sure the association doesn’t violate any of the unit owner’s rights. Otherwise, multiple lawsuits could ensue. Please check with the association attorney before taking any action.

As for the electric that the association needs to decide whether or not to keep on, my guess is that they should be able to charge back the cost of any electric to the unit and make it part of the lien. Again, the expense of the electric service likely outweighs the potential damage that could be caused by mild so the best business judgment rule should allow the association to make that decision. Even if they can’t collect on the electric cost, that amount should be paltry in the overall scheme of things. All the best!

Unapproved Remodel to Upstairs Condo Damages Downstairs Unit

L.S. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

The question I have is this, I live in a condo that has 4 units per bldg. I own mine. These condos were built in the late 50’s maybe early 60’s. Unfortunately, there is an HOA fee of 150 dollars a month and the outside of the buildings look horrible. They really need to be painted and new front and rear doors placed. The front porch is falling apart. The condos were not built like the newer ones are. Someone purchased the upstairs condo and decided that they would remodel the whole condo. There was a wall removed and other major repairs without a permit that has caused damage to my condo. I spoke to a contractor who looked at the damage and informed me that if we were to try to fix it, it would cause more damage. The upstairs condo would receive damage also. I am just wondering who should pay for the damage. The owner knows that there were issues and he wanted his handy man who caused the damage and himself to look at it. I am not sure what good that would do. Should I file a claim with my insurance company and let them fight it out or is there another way to deal with this? Am I going to be stuck with a huge bill?

Mister Condo replies:

L.S., you certainly have a lot going on inside your 4-unit building. Let me address each item separately. First up, the HOA isn’t maintaining the property as they should. There is no reason for painting to go undone other than there is no money in the Reserve Fund for the project. You mention a fee of $150. If that fee isn’t enough to cover operating expenses and set aside money for routine maintenance like painting and door replacement, there will need to be a Special Assessment and/or an increase to common fees. Neither option is popular but that is the only way to get the association back on track so it can fulfill its duty to maintain the building exteriors.

The remodeling project is another issue entirely. It sounds like the upstairs unit owner did some unauthorized and unpermitted work on their unit causing damage to your unit. It’s time to speak with an attorney about suing the unit owner for the damage. You should file a claim with your insurance if you have suffered financial damage worth filing a claim over. However, the fault is clearly with the unit owner who did the unauthorized remodel. You governance documents likely spell out what types of repairs and improvements can be made to unit interiors. If they knocked down a supporting wall, you could be looking at a very expensive repair, not to mention the potential danger you are in. I would want to get this taken care of immediately. If they are amenable to correcting the problem at their expense, you may not need to sue but, in my experience, once the dollars start adding up, a lawsuit is almost inevitable. You should be able to recover your damages though and I am hopeful that your upstairs neighbor will do the right thing. Good luck!

Withholding Repairs to Delinquent Condo Unit Owner

M.B. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Can a condo board withhold unit repairs to an owner who is delinquent?

Mister Condo replies:

M.B., that is a loaded question with lots of possible answers! Since I am not an attorney, I must recommend that you speak with a qualified community association attorney from your area to determine if withholding repairs is within the association’s rights. Typically, my answer would be that the association has a duty to upkeep and maintain all common elements as they are property of the association and not the individual unit owners. The association’s governance documents clearly state what is the association’s duty to maintain. This would usually include parking lots, landscaping, amenities like pools, sidewalks, roofs and building exteriors. Now, if a unit owner became delinquent in their common fees and needed a roof replaced over their unit, the association would still have to maintain that roof because they own it, not the individual unit owner. Failure to maintain a common element would be akin to cutting off your nose to spite your face. It will still need to be done whether the unit owner living under that roof is delinquent or not. I think the more important question here is what steps the association CAN take to either bring this unit owner up to date with fees or force a foreclosure where by the association evicts the unit owner, and, hopefully, replaces the unit owner with a dues-paying owner. If you haven’t already done so, consult with your association’s attorney and make sure the proper steps are being taken. Good luck!

Condo Operating Expense Versus Reserve Charge

J.N. from Fairfield County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

When is an operating expense really a Reserve Charge?

Mister Condo replies:

J.N., typically speaking, operating expenses are those expenses which are incurred during the regular course of business during a calendar year for the association. There are exceptions, of course, as there are some expenses that recur at intervals outside of the calendar year that are still operational in nature. Reserve Charges, on the other hand, are quite specifically collected and deposited in the Reserve Fund. Additionally, many associations have specific Reserve Fund components, meaning funds are collected in Reserve for the roof or the parking lot or the buildings or the pool and tennis courts, and so on. These funds should not be mingled with Operating Funds, which further help to identify them as Reserve Charges. If your association is doing something else when collecting Reserve Charges (paying insurance bills or management fees, for instance) then they are not handling Reserve Charges correctly and could find their use of these funds questioned by a concerned unit owner like you. Hope that helps. Good luck!

Condo Lawsuit Revelation Shouldn’t Cause Issue for Selling Owner

J.P. from New York writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I am planning to sell my condo soon. One of my fellow owners is deeply behind on HOA fees. There’s a law suit pending. I’m told this could hold up my selling. I’m in Brooklyn. Any help would be greatly appreciated!

Mister Condo replies:

J.P., I am sorry that your association is dealing with a delinquent unit owner. While lawsuits against the association might cause a potential buyer for your unit to shy away from the deal, a lawsuit initiated by the association against a delinquent unit owner should not. The association’s only risk here is that the unit owner doesn’t pay in timely fashion. The association’s risk is relatively low, seeing as they have a lien against the unit owner in arrears. It is a requirement that lawsuits that the association is involved in must be disclosed to a potential buyer, I don’t see where this suit should make them change their mind about purchasing your unit. This type of lawsuit is quite common and almost always won by the association. Good luck!