Tag Archives: Common Fees

How Does the Condo Know How Much to Keep in Reserves?

B.B. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

What is a good process to determine the amount to be kept in reserves and set assessments?

Mister Condo replies:

B.B., there is only one tried and tested process to determine the amount to be kept in Reserves and set assessments and that is the implementation and adherence to a Reserve Study. There are many companies that specialize in this service but associations that wish to save money and have the confidence they can do it right can even do it themselves. The concept is simple. The minute the first common element is added to the association, it begins to age and decay. Some go quickly, some take decades, they will all need to be replaced and have a known useful life. The Reserve Study looks at the cost of the common elements and uses a formula to determine the likely cost at the age of replacement. Obviously, it cannot be an exact number but I think you will find these studies, when performed properly, are surprisingly accurate. Once the study is performed, a funding plan is put in place. As long as the funding plan is adhered to, there should always be enough money in the Reserve fund to handle these known upcoming expenses as they come do. Additionally, the association benefits from accruing interest on these funds which tend to help offset inflation. I wish you and your association the wisdom of Solomon in determining and adhering to your Reserve Study findings. Good luck!

No Formal Condo Association Leads to Informal Roof Problem

M.L. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I own a condo in a converted 1860-era house. I have the first floor and upstairs neighbor has 2nd and 3rd. We don’t have a formal association. We just split shared expenses 60/40 (I’m 40). It has worked fine but now there is an issue. We desperately need a new roof. But they keep stalling and finally have come clean that they don’t have the money. What recourse do I have?

Mister Condo replies:

M.L., if you have a condo agreement as part of your purchase agreement, you have a formal association. You and your fellow owner just haven’t been following it, which is fairly common in your two-unit condo. You are about to learn first-hand what happens when one of the unit owners doesn’t have the money for the needed repair and it isn’t pretty. The short-term answer is that unless these folks agree to pony up the money for the new roof, you’re not going to get a new roof. The long-term solution is that you will likely need to sue in order to get them to pay. Since they aren’t likely to do that, they may need to look into other options like mortgaging (unlikely) or selling (ideal). This could take years and you still won’t have a new roof until a new buyer is found who is willing to not only buy their portion of the condo but also pony up 60% of the expense of a new roof. One other option you may have is for you to pay for the new roof and hit them up with a lien for their portion of the roof. You will need an attorney to draw up the papers, which will have to be in compliance with your condo’s governing documents as well. As you can see, this is a most unfortunate event for all involved. There is one other option I didn’t mention and that is for you to sell and make this someone else’s problem. I don’t know if that is an option for you but I wouldn’t hesitate for a minute to get out of this potential money pit if given the opportunity. All the best!

Condo Board Seeks Solution to No Money for the New Roof

P.B. from Hartford County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

My Board wants to get a new roof. They set up a meeting for owners to vote on whether to take a 250K loan or not. At the meeting an attorney hired by the board to do the closing showed up and was practically running the meeting and trying to convince owners to give approval for the loan. I objected on the grounds that it was a conflict of interest to have the attorney there running the meeting since no vote was taken and not enough owners showed up for the meeting. Now the attorney instructed the board to go door to door to get proxies filled out. Is that ok?

Mister Condo replies:

P.B., not only is that OK, it may be the only way to get the necessary votes for the loan so the new roof can be purchased. HOA loans or Special Assessments are rarely needed by community associations that plan for the future and build a proper level of Reserves to handle something as common as a roof replacement. But, as is too often the case, the desire to keep common fees low wins the battle for fiscal responsibility. The end result is no money in the Reserves when needed. In this case, the Board has decided to seek out an HOA loan. The reason the attorney is needed is that it is very common that the association’s governing documents do not allow for the Board to take out a loan on behalf of the association. The proxy votes are the Board’s attempt to get the authority to negotiate the loan and obligate the association to the repayment of the loan, which is required from the bank before the loan is granted. As you can see, it often plays out as a comedy of errors before the final vote is taken and the money is loaned. The real question is how will you support the association moving forward? Will you be the one to suggest that common fees are raised 15%, 20%, 25% higher than they are right now? Will you be the one to insist that the association build a proper Reserve Fund and that Reserve Study be conducted so that a proper level of funding can be achieved? Without support for the unit owners, the Board’s hands are tied. If you need a new roof, the money will need to come from somewhere and that somewhere is the unit owners. Whether it comes in the form of a loan, a Special Assessment, an increase in common fees or a combination of any of the three, the unit owners will pay. Good luck!

Condo Management Company Charging Statement fee to Unit Owners

M.N. from New Haven County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

My condo association recently hired a new management company. For the first time in history I was late on a monthly HOA fee and was charged a late fee of $15 and a statement fee of $5. The management company nicely waived the late fee since my check crossed in the mail but refused to waive the statement fee. I told them I want to opt-out of paper statements and they told me they only mail statements. Is it lawful to charge me $5.00 per statement?

Mister Condo replies:

M.N, yes, it is lawful for them to charge you a statement fee. The Board hired the new management company and should have been made aware of the fees and practices of the firm. The late fee was waived but that would have gone to the association’s coiffeurs. The statement fee goes directly to the management company and is a cost of doing business with them that your Board agreed to. If you are unhappy, you need to complain to the Board and ask them to either renegotiate with the management company to have the statement fee removed (unlikely) or find a management company that doesn’t charge a statement fee when their contract comes up for renewal. Or you could just pay the $5.00 statement fee and realize that it is part of how this management company collects its revenues from your association. All the best!

Can A Group of Condo Owners Lend Money to the Association?

G.H. from Middlesex County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Can an owner loan the association money?

We were in the midst of estimated $6k repairs to the exterior of the building when one of our Unit owners put their unit on the market. The contractor indicated the problem was more severe than they initially thought and advised us to contact insurance. Insurance sent an adjuster. Meanwhile, our unit owners got antsy and got a second contractor’s quote for $9k. Since we had $12k in the bank, the trustees agreed to proceed with the repairs figuring that if we got paid by insurance, great, if not we decided we would do a special assessment. The contractor removed some drywall from the interior of the “for sale” unit and wants to fix that and other areas in a phase 2 which he estimates at $6k. So, at this point we don’t have the money but the unit owners want the repairs made and have offered to loan the condo association money to just get it done now. Is there a way to do that? The repairs would likely need to be made down the road at any rate…

Mister Condo replies:

G.H., the association’s ability to borrow money from anyone – a bank, a group of owners, whatever, is defined in the condo’s governing documents. If the documents are silent on the subject (many are) then the Board needs to adopt a resolution that allows the association to borrow money. Further, the unit owners need to ratify that resolution with a vote that satisfied the requirement for amending the documents. Sometimes it requires more than a simple majority so take a look at your documents to determine if the Board has the authority to borrow money on behalf of the association. The next question becomes one of competitiveness and convenience. Let’s assume that the Board can borrow the money. Why would they go to a group of unit owners versus a bank? How much interest is involved? If it is such a low amount of money and a Special Assessment is planned any way, why not just levy the Special Assessment and be done with it? If the association can’t raise the money to pay back the unit owners, what then? Will they withhold their common fees until they are paid? Borrowing from unit owners may be convenient but it opens up the association to a lot of risk and a potential nightmare down the road. If it were me, I would simply issue the Special Assessment and be done with it. Also, the trustees getting antsy shouldn’t have triggered all of this confusion. They had already hired a contractor. Getting a second opinion after the fact may not have been such a good business practice. Is the first contractor suing the association for reneging on the contract? Then, you could end up paying twice for the work. Protecting the association from such liability is the primary role of the Board. Practicing good fiscal policy is equally important. I question some of the decisions they are making here and would suggest they would benefit from important Board Member training. “Condo Inc.”, offered by the local chapter of CAI, would be a great start. All the best!

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!