J.L. from Florida writes:
Dear Mister Condo,
I am the treasurer of a small (36 units) self-managed condo in SE Florida. We are in the process of changing banks to get better service, as well as establishing a “lock box” system for unit owners to mail in their maintenance checks.
Up until now, checks have been mailed to the condo association and someone has driven to the bank to make deposits. We have fewer and fewer people available and willing to do this (especially when July and October quarterly payments are due and most people are still up north).
Anyway, today one of our elderly residents said she refuses to send her maintenance check to the bank/lockbox. She said she checked with her attorney and was told she cannot be forced to make her maintenance payments that way. There’s no logic or arguing with her. I told her if the condo doesn’t get her July payment within the 5-day grace period, then she will be charged a late fee and interest until we get the payment.
Is there any substance to her stance that the condo can’t force her to use a coupon book and mail her payment to a lockbox?
Mister Condo replies:
J.L., the good news is that this resident WANTS to make her monthly common fee payments in timely fashion. If you read my column regularly, the vast majority of questions about common fees that cross my desk are about unit owners who fail to make them and how that damages the association.
I am not an attorney or an expert in Florida community association law. Since she claims to have checked with her attorney, you may wish to do the same just to make sure you are not violating any laws. From what you have told me, I don’t think that you are, but again, I am not an attorney.
I will offer some friendly advice here. For starters, I doubt that there is any law about how and where common fee payments are made. Associations, of course, need to communicate the place to mail the payments. When you say in the past checks have been mailed to the association, do you mean the association has its own mailing address (P.O. Box or other) or do the checks come to you, the treasurer? Either way, my guess is that you are free to designate the correct procedure for paying common fees and unit owners need to accept the association’s way of doing business.
That being said, if the association refuses to accept this unit owner’s common fee payments in the method she is used to, the association runs the risk of building some ill well with the resident. In my mind, this isn’t so much a legal issue as it is a public relations damage control issue. If this resident decides to go to the press with her story, the association will undoubtedly be vilified. I can see the story unfold in my head now as local TV station News Investigator Joe Blowhard knocks on your door and asks why you are being so cruel to 90 year-old resident Gertrude Footinthegrave, who has been a 30-year resident of the community and never missed a common fee payment. You will lose that Public Relations battle.
Best to avoid the battle altogether and accept this unit owner’s payment however she decides to send it to you. If she continues to mail it to the association, spend the postage to put it in another envelope and send it to the lockbox company. Send her monthly reminders that she needs to send the payment to the new address. You might even mention that by sending the payment to the wrong address, her actions are costing the association more money in postage expenses which may lead to an increase in common fees for all unit owners. That is an empty threat, of course, but since you can’t get through to her with simple conversation, perhaps the potential increase to common fees will be enough to get her to change where she mails her payment.