Tag Archives: Common Fees

Condo Owner Seeks Access to Reserve Study

G.H. from Fairfield County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Is the most recent Reserve Study that the BOD uses to determine owner’s monthly contribution to the HOA reserve fund one of the business documents that any owner has the right to review and/or have a copy of?

Mister Condo replies:

G.H., as a shareholder in the corporation, you have the right to review any and all official records of the association. The Reserve Study is prepared for the association at the Board’s request. Unlike Minutes of a meeting, it is not created by the association but, rather, for the Board to be used as a guide to make sure the proper level of Reserves is being collected to keep the association fiscally sound as the years go by and the common elements deteriorate. It can be argued that since it is a tool for the Board and not an actual record of the Board, it may not be freely available to association members. However, if you request a copy (at your expense), I would think most Boards would allow it. There may be a record inspection fee and there might also be a “per page” copy fee. Reserve studies can be lengthy so it could get a little pricy. Do you know what firm performed the study? You might be able to request an electronic copy of the document which would save you both time and money. If you are fully denied access to the document, you might want to speak with an attorney and see if there is any other way to compel the document from the association. I might also ask you why you need it. If you trust the sitting Board members to properly care for the association’s fiscal needs, the Reserve study is simply a tool to help them do so. Your annual budget, which you most certainly have a right to inspect, will show you what they are doing with that information. I would guess a healthy Reserve Fund contribution would be somewhere around 30% of common fees. If the Board is simply using a 10% number, then it is likely they are following FHA guidelines and not the Reserve Study. Kudos to you for paying attention. Most condo owners simply submit their common fees and hope for the best. Good luck!

Condo Developer Transition Turmoil

S.C. from Litchfield County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Our Board does nothing. No communication, they don’t respond to our questions very well, they are not transparent when they communicate among each other (which is not too often) and my biggest beef, they refuse to fix our crumbling infrastructure (roads, outside siding, fascia boards, etc.). It’s one delay, one excuse after another and this has been going on for almost 3 years. Money is tight, they do not properly fund our community yet they are raising the dues and still operating with a negative balance. No one on the board lives here full-time and the president and one other member work for the developer. Clearly, their priorities are not in sync with the homeowners. Most residents will not say a word for fear of being the bad one or simply a case of extreme apathy. I want to round up the troops and have all the board members (well, 3 out of 4) removed. Having been the president of the association and property manager, I have plenty of experience.  I do not know what kind of reaction I will get but I do know there will be some support. Any response from you would be great and I look forward to it. Thank you.

Mister Condo replies:

S.C., I am sorry that your condo Board is not performing to your expectations. However, from what you have told me, the association is still under developer control so the Board truly has limited power during this time period. Once control is handed over to the association, things will change because no one will be beholden to the developer. The association governs itself and many of the items you discuss can be addressed through democratic elections of interested and able volunteers. Now, if the developer has broken covenants with the owners and you think a lawsuit is in order, you might want to discuss your situation with an attorney. However, new owners like you describe may not go along with spending money to sue the developer so you may just need to wait until the developer transition period is complete. If I have misread your letter and the developer transition is already complete, you simply need to elect new leaders for your community. You will need volunteers ready, able, and willing to serve. They will need training and support. You should also consider hiring a community association attorney verse in developer transition, and accountant, and a property manager if needed. The developer’s team was there to support the developer, not the community association. Getting the right folks in place is vitally important to your association’s success. Your local CAI Chapter can help you find the resources you need. Visit http://caict.org to learn more. Good luck!

Condo Reserve Study Reveals Major Shortage

B.P. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Our new condo management company did a projection study. Unit owners received a letter stating that each unit will be assessed $50,000 payable over a 30-year period unless we vote to take over inside and outside of our units. Is this legal?

Mister Condo replies:

B.P., I’ve never heard of such a thing but that doesn’t make it illegal. The whole idea of a condominium association is that the association is responsible for all common elements, which includes the exterior of the buildings. Individual unit owners do not own the building exteriors so they are not directly responsible for the care and upkeep of them. I say “not directly” because unit owners do have to do two things to make sure their properties are well maintained. The first is to pay their common fees on time. Common fees are the lifeblood of the association and include a contribution to the Reserve Fund, which is where the money to maintain the common elements should eventually come from. Second, and equally important is that unit owners need to elect responsible folks to govern their association. The Board is directly responsible for overseeing the upkeep of the association. They typically do so by hiring outside contractors and management companies to implement this duty but they are the ones representing the association in all matters regarding maintenance and preservation of the association’s common elements. Your governance documents clearly spell out the duties of the association with regards to common elements. If I had to guess, I would say that the communication you received is not properly communicating the message of a Reserve Fund contribution. $50K contribution over 30 years is a little less than $140 per month. Without knowing the amount of assets your association needs to maintain, I would say that is not an unreasonable number for monthly Reserve Fund contributions. I would hope that your association is already collecting these Reserves as part of your monthly common fees. If not, this letter may have been meant to serve as a warning that there is going to be an increase to your common fees to cover the necessary Reserve Fund contribution needed to maintain the community. The “projection study” conducted by the management company may have actually been a “Reserve Study” and they are simply conveying the results of the study. Either way, your association needs to build a healthy Reserve Fund so future repairs can be afforded. Every single common element is aging as we speak. Money needs to be collected today for those replacement projects tomorrow. All the best!

Exterior Rot on Condo Leads to Interior Water Intrusion

R.S. from Missouri writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I am a condo unit owner for 13 years. I recently experienced my third interior damage leak from rotted siding and decades old flashing. Would the HOA be responsible for the cost of these repairs? My monthly common includes maintenance of the exterior of the unit. Thank you!

Mister Condo replies:

R.S., I am sorry that you have had three different water intrusion events that have caused damage to your unit’s interior. I hope you have homeowner’s insurance to help you mitigate against the losses. It would appear that your condo isn’t being maintained as well as it might if you are experiencing rotted siding. Properly installed flashing may last decades but not if water is getting in behind the flashing. The Board of Directors is charged with maintaining, protecting, and even improving the common elements of the association as outlined in your condo documents. They are also responsible for putting in place a strong fiscal plan that includes building up association Reserves for the eventual replacement of common elements. Have they done that? Is there money in the Reserve Fund to pay for the needed repairs? If not, this problem is only going to get worse as further deferred repairs will lead to more decay and more water intrusion events as you have described. It may be time to have a heart to heart with the Board and fellow unit owners. It may be time for a community association loan to make these repairs and it is most certainly time to raise common fees so that a Reserve Fund can be built for future repairs. This may mean that common fees will rise significantly but if there is no Reserve Fund, they have been artificially low for too long. The HOA is responsible to repairs made to the exterior of the unit. You are responsible for repairs made to the interior, even if they are caused by neglectful maintenance by the association. That is why you have to have insurance for these losses. It’s time to get your condominium association back on track financially or these claims are going to become larger and much more frequent. Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that. Good luck!

When Does Delinquency in Condo Common Fees Cause Collections?

A.V. from Hartford County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

How many months of condo fees do I need to be behind before being sent to attorneys for collection?

Mister Condo replies:

A.V., I am sorry you have to ask such a question. I hope your financial situation improves and you get caught up on your common fees. Associations have the ability to send any overdue account to a collections agent as soon as it becomes overdue. For practicality purposes, most association will allow a 30-day period (with fines or fees after 10 days for late payment). After 30 days, a letter of demand is usually sent. After 60 days, referral to an attorney or other collection agent is common. At that time, the collection agent will take or recommend more aggressive action which can actually lead to foreclosing on the unit for delinquency. This is an extremely aggressive action but it is necessary to keep the association solvent. After all, common fees are the lifeblood of the association. If unit owners stop paying them, the association cannot provide the services these common fees are used to pay for. Unit owners who don’t pay their fees are getting a “free ride” at the association’s expense. They still get snow and trash removed, lawns kept, insurances paid for and much more. It isn’t fair to the association members who pay their fees on time to carry another unit owner. If you do find yourself turned over to a collection agent, my advice is to work out a payment plan if allowed and get yourself current as quickly as possible. Common fees alone can be expensive. Having them compounded with late fees and collection fees will quickly make a bad situation much worse. Good luck!

Mishandled Condo Elevator Maintenance Contracts Causes Special Assessment

M.C. from Florida writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I live in Florida, so I will take your advice in good faith, but: we are being charged a special assessment of almost $2000 to repair the elevators of the condo complex. Normally I would have no complaint, but the reason the Special Assessment has become necessary is because of poor management of the repair contracts of the original repair work that was in budget.

Basically, the elevators were to be fixed and brought up to Florida building code nearly a year ago. However, the Board did not sign any labor contract and paid for the work up front. At some point, the work was abandoned and the elevators have stayed in disrepair and out of inspection compliance (which they were fined for) until a few weeks ago. The Special Assessment of almost $2000 per unit owner has arisen as a result of not signing those original labor contracts and the abandoned work being paid for with maintenance budget funds.

Bottom line, I want the elevators fixed, so I will pay the assessment. But, do we have any legal recourse against the board to recover those funds as a “breach of fiduciary responsibility”?

Mister Condo replies:

M.C., in my non-legal opinion, you do not have recourse against the Board. From what you have described there was no premeditated malfeasance or crime, just some poor business decisions that caused an increase in the overall expense of the association-owned asset. It may have managed less than ideally but I don’t see any breach of duty here. Hopefully, there has been a lesson learned and there will be better stewardship of the elevator maintenance program moving forward. Of course, Board Members are democratically elected volunteers from within your association and they do need to run for reelection at some point. If you feel there are better candidates for the position, you and your fellow unit owners will have opportunity to replace them with different volunteers at some point. All the best!

Condo Reserve Fund and Operational Fund Should Not Be Same Account

E.B. from Litchfield County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Can you refer me to a good article I can share with the board relating to using Reserve Funds and Operational Funds? I have some board members thinking it is one big pot of money! I would like to show them an explanation.

Mister Condo replies:

Sure thing, E.B.! The difference between Reserve Funds and Operational Funds is significant and the two should never be mingled or thought of as one big pot of money! My friend, Jeff Hardy, Founder of TOPS Software, wrote an excellent article on the topic that you can find here: http://camblog.topssoft.com/back-to-basics-understanding-reserve-fund-accounting. I am not sure what type of training your Board has had but one of the first things Board members need to learn when they agree to serve is all of the fiscal fiduciary duties they have as Board Members. Funding and protecting the Reserve Fund is paramount to maintaining a fiscally healthy association. There is always great temptation to simply spend or borrow from this fund, but, as is almost always the case, the monies never get put back and the community becomes deficient when the next major capital improvement project comes due. That takes the community down the path to Special Assessments or loans to make the needed repairs, or worse, deferred maintenance (not making the repair at all). All of this is easily avoidable by a proper understanding and respect for the Reserve Fund. Good luck!

Condo Water Submetering Does Not Guarantee Lower Common Fees

M.B. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

My condo fee includes water. The Association wants to install individual water meters for us to pay for our own water but does not want to reduce our condo fee. Shouldn’t that percentage of the condo fee come back to us now that we pay our own water bill?

Mister Condo replies:

M.B., the decision to submeter water is gaining in popularity and makes perfect sense for many associations. Of course, the approval to move from an included amenity to a paid amenity usually requires a vote of the association unless the Board has the authority under the governing documents to make the decision. Once the decision has been made and properly voted upon, the submetering begins and the association is no longer responsible for providing the amenity. The reconfiguration of the budget and common fees resulting from this line item being removed from the budget is an entirely separate matter and one that should be addressed at next year’s budget approval time. In theory, lower common expenses to the association should result in lower common fees to individual unit owners. However, as you know, there are many other items that make up the annual budget. Just because the line item for water expense is diminished, there is always the possibility of another line item (insurance, for instance) increasing which could easily offset the savings from water submetering. In other words, the two items are not strictly related, Common fees are set as a result of total expenses, Reserve Fund contributions, etc.. The water expense is just one line item on a larger list of expenses. Be sure to keep a close eye on next year’s budget proposal and common fee schedule. If there is an opportunity for savings, that is likely where you will see it. All the best!

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!