Tag Archives: Reserve Fund

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 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!

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!

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!

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!

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!

Cleveland Condo Association in Search of Assistance

A.B. from Cleveland, OH writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I’m looking for recommendations for a property management company and/or a company to perform a reserve-study. I’m in a medium high-rise building (60+ units) in the Cleveland, Ohio area. Any help is appreciated.

Mister Condo replies:

A.B., kudos to you and your association for seeking a qualified property management company and a Reserve Study. Great community association governance begins with a solid plan and a great team. As you know from reading my column, I am a solid supporter of the Community Associations Institute (CAI) and their members as they are the folks who bring you the best practices for community association governance. If your association isn’t already a member, you should consider joining. In Ohio, you have three local chapters but the Cleveland, Ohio region is serviced by my friends at the Northern Ohio Chapter of CAI. They have a website at https://www.cainorthernohio.org. My best advice for you is to use their contact form at https://www.cainorthernohio.org/contact and tell them you would like a list of local credentialed community association managers and a list of Reserve Study providers. I didn’t see any local events for you to attend listed on their website but I would ask them about that as well as I know they host educational seminars from time to time where you could not only educate yourself but also network with similarly minded folks and local industry professionals who are sure to want to offer their assistance. Thanks for the question and good luck!

What is a Condo 13th Month Assessment?

L.L. from Massachusetts writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

We just had a 13th month fee. Then a fee increase and then last year another 13th month fee. At our June meeting, out self-managed trustees explained they will be seeking a loan for $125,000.00 to repair the parking lot.  Do you think this association has any financial problems?

Mister Condo replies:

L.L., your association has more than financial problems! For my readers who aren’t familiar with the term “13th month fee”, all me to give a quick tutorial. A 13th month fee is an extra month’s worth of common fees some associations have adopted as a way to build up their Reserve Fund. It amounts to a little over 8% of the annual common fees going to the Reserve Fund and it was devised by some clever-thinking folks as a fairly painless way to build Reserve Fund contributions. While I acknowledge the cleverness of the tactic, I neither condone nor recommend its use. For starters, it isn’t a part of the condo’s governance documents. Technically, it is a special assessment which has its own set of rules for levying and enforcing. It also masks an underlying problem of financial instability within the association. In other words, it is a band aid for a wound that requires stitches. Eventually, this wound will burst and be a much larger problem for the association.

The best plan for your association would be to have a straight talk conversation about the association’s need for a healthy Reserve Fund and its need to adhere to a Reserve Study indicating how much money will be needed and when. Then a reasonable budget could be constructed that will take this shortcoming into consideration and address it properly. Yes, common fees are going to go up but that is because they are artificially low right now. To eliminate the 13th month fee, they need to go up 8.33%. The dollar amount of fee increase needed to account for the Reserve Fund shortfall also needs to be calculated. Then the association can get itself back on track to good financial health that will benefit all of the unit owners. Good luck!