Tag Archives: Reserve Fund

Rules for Condo Special Assessment

R.F. from Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

In Connecticut, can a special assessment be levied, with a vote by homeowners to paint buildings, repair buildings, labor and material? Can the Board of directors create a special assessment, by vote from homeowners for capital improvements which is patently a capital expense?

Mister Condo replies:

R.F., the rules for levying special assessments are determined by a few things, including the association’s own rules and state law. If the homeowners were allowed to vote, then, typically, the assessment would be deemed valid. Of course, all of the rules for giving proper notice of the vote would have to have been followed and all of the rules for conducting the vote would have to have also been followed. It sounds to me like that is what happened. The underlying issue is why was there a need for a special assessment for a capital expense that has likely been known about for years. You might want to suggest the Board conduct a Reserve Study and then present a plan for funding the Reserve fund so future capital expenses can be paid for out of Reserves and not via special assessment. All the best!

Previous Condo Trustee Allowed Unit Owner Delinquency to Go Unchecked!

M.C. from Middlesex County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Our trustee just sold her unit making me the new trustee. After she left, I found out one of the Unit owners wasn’t paying their HOA fees and that the former trustee had used funds I put in the Reserve Fund for my share of assessments to front for them. We were about to hold off on a planned assessment because of this when the city slapped us with a fine so now we have to move forward or rack up more fines! I asked a lawyer for a consultation hoping he could give us some advice on how to proceed and he practically laughed me off the phone saying the situation wasn’t worth a lawyer. But the unit owners still aren’t paying and the city is expecting us to move forward with the assessment! What do we do?

Mister Condo replies:

M.C., for starters, you get a new lawyer! I don’t know of any lawyer committed to community association law that would “laugh you off the phone” for such a potentially serious and clearly legal matter. You have three very separate matters to attend to here. The city slapping you with a fine is likely your biggest fish to fry. Get your association in compliance with the city so no further fines result. The city likely has powers to make your life quite uncomfortable depending on the nature of the offense. If they find your buildings are uninhabitable due to a safety issue, they could actually forbid people from living in your units. You certainly don’t want that and I am hoping that the fine is for something easily remedied. If a Special Assessment is needed to bring the association into compliance with the city’s requirements, it may be time to levy that assessment. Be sure you do so in accordance with your association’s governance documents and state law. Second, you need to take legal action against the unit owner in arrears as allowed by your governing documents. Typically, this is the work of an attorney or collection agency. Do not take matters into your own hands. Collections is a delicate and legal process best handled by professionals. Collection efforts may even lead to a foreclosure action by the association against the unit owner in arrears. This is not a matter to be taken lightly. Finally, the previous Trustee has acted inappropriately and, perhaps, even illegally. The decision to let another unit owner to forego paying assessments was very likely outside the scope of their authority. At the very least, it was a dereliction of duty. An attorney can best advise you if it is worth seeking criminal or civil charges against the previous trustee in an attempt to collect the delinquent common fees. Once you get all of these problems behind you, M.C., you can focus on running the association like a business, as it was intended to be. Good luck!

Condo Antenna Lease Renewal Quandary

E.M. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

We are looking for an advisor to help us understand the market value of an antenna lease we have with a major carrier. Sadly, the lease revenue is being used to offset operating expenses and not just going to build reserves. Therefore, the homeowners have become used to this “operating subsidy”. The long-term contract with the carrier will soon expire and we need guidance. Any ideas for resources?

Mister Condo replies:

E.M., utilities such as renewing or changing carriers for services like an antenna lease are the purview of the Board. The use of the lease revenue to help fund the Reserve Fund is noble but not likely required. If a previous Board diverted the lease revenue from the Reserve Fund in to the Operating Fund the current Board can take steps to remedy that. However, if there is a desire to keep common fees lower by using the revenue for the Operating Fund, there may be little motivation for the Board to make the switch back. Concerned Unit Owners like you can ask the Board to make the switch. As for renewing the antenna lease itself, the Board does have a few options depending on the competition for services in your market. Their best bet would be to see what their options are and solicit bids, just like they do for any other service they buy on behalf of the association. Good luck!

HOA Board Ain’t Fixin’ Nuttin!

R.M. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

4 months ago, I purchased a duplex which has 3 buildings and 6 owners. I had a hard time getting documents during the sale and did not understand the dynamics involved. The first email I got from the treasurer was on the day the fees were due. Our first meeting when I met the other owners was a nightmare. The president has been in position for 20 years and has Alzheimer’s so her daughter had appointed herself to the position. The treasurer was appointed by her, not vote, and the secretary had been behind 6 months in fees which they were trying to cover up. When I brought up concerns about the outside of our building, I was yelled at by the President’s son-in-law and told “we ain’t fixing nuttin, we got no money!” Then my neighbor brought up a repair not done properly and he stood up screaming and swearing at her and everyone started fighting. I asked for the bylaws and I was told by the president to find them myself. She doesn’t have them.

A few weeks ago, the fascia that needed repair was hanging off of my roof. I called the president and son in law started screaming and threatening me and said we have no money to fix it. I mentioned the Reserves that we should have had when I moved in, and both him and the treasurer admitted it was fudged to make the sale happen and accused my realtor of fraud. I had her call them and the next day the son-in-law apologized and paid out of pocket to have the fascia repaired.

They had previously called a special meeting to discuss the budget so I told them I did not want the son-in-law there as he has no business there; they agreed. The meeting started off ok until we brought up questions about missing payments from a couple of owners. We started getting bullied again. When the argument was brought up about the fascia I defended myself telling what the son-in-law said to me. He came running down the stairs screaming and swearing and threatening me again and threw me out of his mother-in-law’s house. I called the police.

I want to have the President, Treasurer, and Secretary removed by law for keeping false books, hostile environment, favoritism, harassment and negligence. If I have solid proof (which I do), will I be able to charge the association for the attorney since it’s in the best interest of the owners? It’s the board who caused all of these problems.

Mister Condo replies:

R.M., your tale of woe reads like a comedy of errors. I am glad you got your fascia replaced but the rest of this tale is a nightmare! This is a small homeowner’s association (6 units if I understood your opening statement). Small associations face the same challenges as larger associations but have far fewer resources to handle the issues. A functioning Board is a good start but there are legal remedies available to you. I want to ask you about your own purchase into this association. Did you use an attorney? Did the attorney review the governance documents? They can’t go missing as they are part of the closing process. Of course, if you somehow waived your right to these critical documents in an eagerness to make the purchase, you are experiencing a major case of “Buyer Beware!” It sounds to me like there is awful lot of impropriety going on here. You need to speak with an attorney, which I am not. I offer friendly advice; an attorney will offer you legal advice. You may end up suing the association, individual officers, anyone else associated with these misdeeds in an attempt to get the association back on sound footing. By the way, 6 owners don’t guarantee deep enough pockets to do that. In fact, you may be throwing good money after bad in an attempt to correct this problem. Your attorney can better advise you if you can include your own legal fees in any litigation but winning the litigation is just the beginning. You need to collect from these folks, who clearly don’t have the money from what you have told me. If it were me, I think I would try to sell and cut my losses. Otherwise, be ready to deal with an ongoing problem for months and even years to come. Keep the police on speed dial because these folks clearly have no idea what they are supposed to be doing and will likely continue doing what they have always done. Good luck!

Condo Vendors Work for the Board; Not the Unit Owners!

L.K. from New Haven County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

A company was hired by the Board to do an assessment of the complex and provide a report to the board in order to get a loan. I called the person who did the report to ask some questions and he said he had been instructed not to answer questions from unit owners. All questions have to go to the Board first. No direct contact is allowed. Can the Board restrict unit owners from talking to a vendor hired by the Board and paid for by unit owners?

Mister Condo replies:

L.K., even though it might seem contrary to reason, the vendor was hired by the Board, not the unit owners. The vendor reports only to the Board. That doesn’t mean you don’t have a right to see the report once it becomes part of the association’s records but until then, the vendor, in this case it sounds like a Reserve Study expert, is correct not to interface with unit owners as it might color the report made to the Board. The Reserve Study specialist needs to be completely objective and present his or her findings directly to the Board. Your observation that unit owners have paid for this contractor is not technically correct. Yes, you and your fellow unit owners all pay your common fees but the governance of those funds is the exclusive purview of the Board. This is very similar to paying your taxes to the town or city in which you live. People that work for the town or city are not your employees, are they? No, the same is true for folks employed by the association. They work for the Board and are responsible only to the Board. I hope your Board makes good use of your new Reserve Study. Good luck!

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!