Tag Archives: Assessments

Paying the Price for Years of Low Condo Common Fees

A.C. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I live in an 85-unit condo complex that was built in 1970. Many of our residents have lived here since the 80s. Unfortunately for us, the Reserve Study we reviewed before buying listed the HOA health as good and properly funded. The Reserve Study issued a month after our purchase brought to light a number of upcoming expenses to maintain the buildings due to age. What many of the new owners are discovering now is that for years the association kept unit dues very low and avoided large repairs until needing emergency repairs. Now they are increasing dues rapidly to help pay for aged repairs- such as replumbing of the buildings. Our dues have increased by over 50% in a few years. Dues increases and assessments are incurred based on % of ownership, but is there a legal option (perhaps through a change to by-laws) that would allow for a special assessment based on years of ownership to place some of the financial burden on those that enjoyed years of rock-bottom dues at the expense planning ahead?

Mister Condo replies:

A.C., I am sorry that you and your fellow units are left paying the bill for previous unit owners. The sweetness of low monthly fees is often replaced with the vial reality of special assessments and higher common fees for future owners. There is currently no laws that allow for associations to go back and recoup additional common fees or assessments from previous unit owners. All that you can do as an association is to buckle down, address the reality of the situation and base future common fees on a properly funded Reserve Fund for when these common elements will need replacing next time. Otherwise, you will very likely find the next generation of unit owners feeling the same way you do now when there is no money available to them to make the repairs and replacements for the common elements you are about to replace and use for decades ahead. It is a vicious cycle but, with planning and proper budgeting, it can be managed. Good luck!

Condo Unit Owner Seeks Legal Recourse for Poorly Maintained Roof

D.N. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

After living in my condo unit for many years, the roof recently came off during a rainstorm. The Association’s master policy is paying for the property damage which means they will put the home back to the state it was sold to me. However, do I have any legal recourse against the property management company and the board for not maintaining the roof in good order in addition to what the insurance will cover. The roof was originally scheduled for replacement in August. My roof came off in July. The state of the roof of my unit as well as the other roofs in the building unit I am in was in very poor shape. It appeared as though the roof should have been replaced or maintained quite some time ago. I was wondering if I had any recourse against either or both parties for not maintaining the property at the level it should. I have always paid my condo fee in full and feel I deserve to have my property maintained.

Mister Condo replies:

D.N., poorly maintained condos are almost always the result of “deferred maintenance”, the polite term for not collecting enough common fees to make adequate Reserve Fund contributions over the years. I am sorry that you had a such a direct impact from such a poorly maintained roof and I am glad that you have had the benefit of insurance to help you rebuild. As for your ability to seek additional damages against the association, I am doubtful. That isn’t to say you couldn’t try but the reality is no real crime was committed here. The Board is democratically elected by the unit owners like yourself and has likely changed over many times in the years of neglect involved. The Property Management company does the bidding of the Board so they are not at fault. Who exactly would you sue? The association paid to replace your roof after it failed so they fulfilled their obligation as well. I am not an attorney and offer no legal advice here. My friendly advice is to be happy that you have been made whole by insurance and that no one was injured by the failed roof. You might ask the Board what steps they are taking to start saving for the next roof now that the current one is new. My guess is your common fees need to increase 20% or more to properly reserve for future repairs. As you can imagine, that won’t be popular with unit owners who are unlikely to want to pay more today for tomorrow’s repairs. Yet, that is the right solution. Good luck!

Condo Unit Owner Doesn’t Want to Pay Assessment to Cover Lawsuit Costs

C.O. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

One owner is suing the condo so now the condo wants each owner to pay $500 to pay the legal fees to defend against the suit. I have no problem if it was for something to improve the condo that the budget couldn’t cover but not legal fees. They have also threatened us with a collection agency if we do not pay. We live pay check to pay check as it is and do not have this extra money. What is your opinion?

Mister Condo replies:

C.O., I am sorry for your financial worries. Lawsuits against the association are serious business and the Board is right to hire an attorney to defend against the lawsuit. As a unit owner, you are a member of the corporation and have a vested interest in the outcome of the lawsuit. If the association decided to not defend itself and the plaintiff won the suit, the association could find itself owing a great deal of money to the unit owner bringing the suit. The end result of that would be an assessment to unit owners equal to the amount of the award. You could end up paying much more by not paying to defend against the suit. The bottom line is that you are the association and you are being sued. You want to defend yourself and the legal fees incurred are part of being in the association. You must pay them or the association will act against you with full legal authority to do so. My opinion is that you should pay these fees and keep a close eye on the lawsuit. Hopefully, the money invested in the defense fees saves you from having to pay far more. Good luck!

Condo Owners Reluctant to Pay Proper Common Fees

K.I. from New Haven County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I serve as board president for a small association. The Treasurer and I are the only unit owners who have any interest in serving in more than name only. Despite our best efforts, we can only seem to get the unit reps together annually to discuss business. For the past few years he and I have been warning everyone that due to inflation, our expenses are surpassing our income. We have tried raising monthly dues, but according to our by-law, raising dues and levying of non-emergency assessments must be passed by majority, so we’ve been unsuccessful. Because of this, we have been unable to allocate funds to do upkeep. The unit that is the most vocal about status quo reported a water stain that will certainly lead to a leak. The treasurer and I would very much like to address this…but we don’t have the money because we’re being out-voted on raising dues and budgeting future assessments into them. Once there IS a leak we can say this is an emergency assessment and levy it, but the unit that reported it is threatening legal action against us for not maintaining the building unless we fix it post-haste. Because we are a small association, we have been unable to find a property manager that will take us on or that we can afford, so we don’t have access to a lawyer. We’ve called around, but have been unable to find a lawyer that will even see us for a consultation! Any advice?

Mister Condo replies:

K.I., I am sorry for your situation. Unfortunately, you are seeing the direct results of what happens when unit owners’ apathy reaches a dangerous level. There are some things you can do but you will likely get pushback from unit owners and even the uninterested Board Members. A lawsuit from an upset unit owner will get their attention despite your best efforts to avoid that scenario. The emergency repair will also cause the immediate problem to be fixed but will not solve the long-term issue of inadequate Reserve Funds and even general maintenance funds. The reality of the situation is that your common fees should probably be at least twice what they are right now but, as you know, unit owners will fight you tooth and nail if you raise the fees that much. Having money for a property manager and an attorney are all part of collecting adequate common fees. Until the fees are raised, the problems will persist. If it were me, I’d hit the road while the units still have some value. If you wish to stay and fight, you can cite governance and legal (Connecticut State Law) requirements to adequately collect Reserves as part of the monthly common fees. It will take years to correct but with diligence, I do believe you can turn the association around. The alternative is catastrophic financial failure, which will lead to the association going under and owner losing their homes. I hope it doesn’t come to that. Good luck!

Uncollected and Unaccounted Condo Common Fees!

T.N. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I’ve lived in a 3-unit condo for almost 2 years. For the first year I tried to get in touch with its only Trustee—I wanted to become involved in the HOA and help plan an annual meeting—but he continually put me off (he lived elsewhere and rented his unit). A week or two before a new owner closed on his unit, this guy asked me to take up the mantle as Trustee (this was also the first I was finding about him selling!). He cancelled 2 meetings with me, and then on the day of his closing, texted me that he was in the city and could I take a long lunch to settle business. At this lunch meeting (which took 2hrs!), we got my status as Trustee notarized, my name on the bank accounts, and I got a giant bag full of paper records.

To say the least, I was completely unprepared for being the Trustee. After spending 8 weeks going through these incomplete and disorganized records, I came to find that for years the common bills and landscaping were paid late or not at all (apparently 2 companies quit over non-payment). I intervened with the electric company terminating our service and the city issuing a lien. After doing what I could with the records, I hired a forensic accountant to do some triage, and she was appalled at what she found. For years the association has increasingly been coming in hundreds of $$ under budget, and the reserves have been being drained and not replenished to compensate (basically as an association we have $600 to our name).

It’s also clear that he didn’t keep track of HOA dues—there is no ledger to speak of and some of the “deposit notes” are written on napkins and sundry receipts—and, from what I can tell, over the past 7 years we’re missing nearly $4K in HOA dues mostly from the unit owned by an elderly couple.

The accountant and I had a long discussion and we decided that since we have no records proving who owes what and since it’s been years, we should forgive the HOA dues, but put them on a payment plan for the 10K they owe in back assessments. The elderly couple had been claiming we were not a legit association and thus not under the same governing rules as one, so I dug up the declaration of trust and the master deed I got during my purchase for them to see (5 months in and we finally all agreed on a payment plan).

When I closed I had my lawyer look over the docs and synopsize them for me, but I didn’t really read too much about the duties of a Trustee at the time. Now I’m seeing that according to the by-laws we *have* to have 3 Trustees, each one a rep for each unit. I want to eat my own face. The new guy is busy with a PhD and has no interest in taking on this responsibility, and the elderly couple has no idea how an association is run or how HOA fees or assessments work (they called me each time they received a monthly HOA fee invoice, asking me what this bill was; they also don’t know why I can’t “get a guy” to repaint their unit, for example).

Right now, I feel like the only interested, sane, informed person trying to make sure the association doesn’t collapse (I’ve contacted several property managers who have haughtily told me they don’t manage associations this small). How terrible would it be if I remained as the only Trustee for another year, just until I get us out of this financial mess and put processes in place to ensure it doesn’t happen again?

Mister Condo replies:

T.N., I would love to tell you that yours is the first horror story I have heard from very small (2 or 3 unit) associations but, unfortunately, the situation you describe is far too common, although not always as financially shocking to read about. The phrase “Buyer Beware” comes to mind when I read your list of wrongdoings by the previous Trustee and unit owners. I admire your realistic approach at fixing the problem but, honestly, you are the only person who can correct what is going on and, perhaps, right this sinking ship. Or you can abandon the ship by selling your unit to an unaware individual. There seems to be an endless demand for these units in smaller associations although, personally, I would never own one unless the other unit owners were family. As you have seen, most property managers are loath to manage these small associations. How can they make any money doing so? Even a modestly sized association would yield several thousand dollars per year for the efforts. Your association would have numerous management issues and they would be lucky to make a few hundred dollars a year for their time. Not going to happen. As far as you remaining the only trustee, technically, you are operating outside of the scope of the governing documents. However, who is going to challenge you? The PhD candidate with no time or the elderly couple with no understanding of what they own? I think you are free to do as you see fit. If it were me, I’d sell and consider this a lesson in something to never do again. Good luck!

Grants to Help with Condo Capital Improvements

D.D. from New Haven writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

We have met have at a few CAI Events. Are there any grants available to help with a capital improvement project for an Association in New Haven?

Mister Condo replies:

D.D., thanks for remembering we have met. I love going to CAI events and I love meeting like-minded folks there. Grants are not an area of expertise for me. I looked quickly at the City of New Haven website (https://www.newhavenct.gov/default.htm) and the only grants I saw were for Arts and Cultural programs for Neighborhood Cultural Vitality. I don’t know if your community would qualify for such a grant but it doesn’t appear to me that it would cover a capital improvement project. Typically, such money would come from unit owners in the form of contributions to the Reserve Fund or a Special Assessment if enough money hadn’t been saved over the years. I did look a little further at the City of New Haven website and found this section – https://www.newhavenct.gov/gov/depts/obd/business/get_incentives_n_funding.htmwhich details incentives and funding options. While I didn’t see any particular programs for condos, there certainly seems to be some alternate funding available for certain projects. These programs are overseen by the Office of Economic Development. It would certainly be worth your while to speak with them to see if they can give you further instruction. A directory of the folks you might need is here: https://www.newhavenct.gov/gov/depts/ed/contact_staff.htmAll the best!

Condo Construction Defect Loan Cannot be Paid Off Early

W.M. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Initial construction had problems – BOD suit – went on $2.7M legal fees – won but he filed bankruptcy – urgently needed work done – BOD/Association took loan against common property – $10M – doubled condo fee – was to be provision for buyer pre-pay – never done – demand they do it. Questions: 1) Propriety of binding all condo owners to overall loan – do not allow a owner pre- pay – 2) Isn’t this unusual – As expected, large condo fee has deterred sales.

Mister Condo replies:

W.M., I am sorry for all of your new association’s problems. Construction defects can be quite expensive as can the lawsuits to chase down the developer. In this case, it looks like good money was spent chasing bad to try and recover the funds for the association. As is the case, the unit owners are left footing the bill. You would need to check your association’s governing documents to determine what authority the Board had to negotiate a loan on the part of the association and their ability to limit unit owners’ ability to pay off their portion of the loan at their discretion. You asked if it was unusual and my answer is that it is not. Most newer associations have the ability to enter into a loan agreement on behalf of the association. Depending on how they negotiated the loan, they may not have the ability to pay off the loan early, which would limit the unit owners’ ability to pay off their portion early. In my experience, that particular term of the loan would be unusual but not unheard of. You might ask the Board to refinance the loan with a lender that would allow the association to pay back the loan early if unit owners wanted to do so, However, that is easier said than done as a new loan would carry additional closing fees and costs. My advice would be to simply make your increased common fee payments until the loan is retired or ask the Board to look into refinancing the loan in a year or two, especially if loan rates stay low. Good luck!

Poorly Maintained Condo Forces Unit Owner to Lower Selling Price

B.S. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

How do I sell my condo when it hasn’t been kept up by the people who take our condo fees every month? We have a condo repossessed by the bank, people who don’t pay their condo fees for who knows what reason, and in one unit it’s now a rental. Any advice would be helpful.

Mister Condo replies:

B.S., I feel your pain and I am sorry that you have purchased a condo unit in an association that isn’t fulfilling its obligation to upkeep the association. I am guessing that the association upkeep is the tip of the iceberg. As a seller, you will have an additional challenge during the selling process from astute buyers who are likely to notice the lack of proper upkeep. The good news for you is that it may not have too much of an effect on your ability to sell depending on who the buyers are. You may have to lower your price a bit but you may be doing yourself a favor by getting out before the special assessments hit when the avoided upkeep is no longer optional. A roof will fail, siding will fail, parking lots will fail, the list goes on and on. By selling your unit at a discount, you may just be saving yourself from many thousands of dollars in these upcoming expenses. Get out while you can and be open to offers that might not be at the top of the market for similar units in better kept associations. Good luck!

No, the Condo Reserve Fund is not the Board’s Cookie Jar!

B.C. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Is a Reserve Fund to be used for only the intent that describes the Reserve Fund or can the money be taken and used elsewhere for replacement of an item normally taken care of by maintenance. This item is an accessory item and has no bearing of the intention of the Reserve Fund. It is just that this particular fund has an excess in it therefore has become the resource for the project.

Mister Condo replies:

B.C., thank you for the question. By it’s nature a Reserve Fund should never have “an excess in it”. Reserve Funds are for wear and tear that is occurring on the common elements each and every day. There should always be money in the Fund as the wear and tear occurs daily and the common element replacement is a known future expense of the association. Having money in the Reserve Fund to pay for those expenses is critical and vital to the financial well-being of the association. However, it is tempting for Board members to “borrow” from the fund to pay for other items the association needs now. Such would seem to be the case for your association.

As you can imagine this is a really bad idea. For the most part there are no laws protecting the Reserve Fund. They are an asset of the association and, as such, under the Board’s control. While the Board has a duty to protect the association, which includes protecting the Reserve Fund, they also have to be practical when it comes to the association’s expenses. It is unfortunately quite common for Boards to tap into their Reserve Fund to pay for non-Reserve Fund items. It’s just too easy and too tempting to do so. If the Board has an immediate plan to return the money, there may be no harm and no foul. However, these good intentions are often overlooked when it comes to increasing common fees or asking for a Special Assessment to cover the money borrowed so it doest get replaced and the association’s once healthy and adequate Reserve Fund becomes underfunded, creating a swath of problems for future association members.

The best policy for the reserve Fund is one of custodial guardianship. The Reserve Fund should be used only for the items it was designed to protect and maintain. Any extemporaneous projects that arise should be paid for with other funds, i.e. special assessment or increased common fees. If your Board has no plan to return the money to the Reserve Fund, you would be wise to raise the issue at an upcoming meeting. If your Board members are not willing to perform their fiduciary duties of protecting the association’s assets, such as the Reserve Fund, it is time for some new Board members. All the best!

Condo Board Depletes Reserves Without Plan for Replacement

K.C. from Long Island, NY writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I live in a 40-unit condo community in Suffolk County, Long Island that was built 8 years ago. The sponsor upon his departure left $25,000.00 in Reserves with the recommendation that we continue to increase our Reserves to $35,000. Our present Board recently depleted all Reserves for the rehabbing of the wood on 2 buildings. According to our By Laws, the Reserves are to be used for roofs, roads, curbs, bulkhead. Living in an area susceptible to storms, floods and hurricanes – this makes me extremely nervous. Is there a source I can go to for laws & information on HOA Reserves for NY condos?

Mister Condo replies:

K.C., you are right to be concerned about how the Board is using the Reserve Fund and any of the association’s resources. A substantial Reserve Fund, or lack thereof, is often the difference between success and failure in condominium communities like yours. Unfortunately, the state of New York has been largely silent on the issue, leaving unit owners such as you, to review the association’s governance documents to make a determination as to what, if any, provisions exist that require the association to conduct and maintain a proper Reserve Study and to then properly fund the Reserve Fund so that the unit owners are protected against future maintenance costs which will surely arrive. When the community is not prepared for those expenses, unit owners get his with Special Assessments and/or increased common fees to carry the debt created by an HOA loan used to fund the repairs. It is truly a “pay me now or pay me later” scenario for unit owners. My best advice is for you to review your governance documents and see what they say. Most allude to having a Reserve Fund but few have a required contribution. You may suggest the association adopt a Reserve Fund annual contribution either based on a Reserve Study or even 10% of revenues collected. This will require an increase to common fees but it will help the association survive in the years ahead. You might also suggest the association hire a Reserve Study specialist who can best advise the association of how to plan ahead and save now for tomorrow’s known expenses. It might be an additional expense to the association today but it will provide great peace of mind and fiscal stability to the association in the future. All the best!