Managers and boards across the country hear all kinds of excuses from members that pay late or do not pay their homeowner’s dues at all. Here’s five of the most common, and why it’s smart not to use them.
Excuse #1: “I didn’t get what I paid for.”
“My building hasn’t been painted in five years! I’m not paying another cent until some basic maintenance gets done.”
“The power was out for three days during the storm. I’m withholding a pro-rated amount from my assessment check.”
You have a right to require the association to perform its duties, and various legal channels exist to accomplish this. Withholding assessments is not one of them. Your obligation to pay assessments has nothing to do with the association’s obligations to provide maintenance and service. If you withhold your check or pay a reduced amount, you’ll become delinquent, and that leads to late fees, and actually makes your situation worse.
Excuse #2: “You didn’t bill me.”
“I didn’t get an invoice.”
“You didn’t tell me I was behind in my payments.”
Many association governing documents neither require the association to send invoices nor provide advance notice of payments due or past due. However, associations are required to send the approved budget to each owner annually and most do just that. When the association approves and sends the budget each year to the members, it contains notice of the amount you must pay annually. If you’re ever unsure about the amount or the due dates, just call your management or accounting office.
Excuse #3: “You can’t do that!”
“These people have no right to make me pay for neighborhood upkeep.”
“If they think I’m paying those outrageous late fees and interest, they’re crazy.”
Actually, the association not only has the authority, it has a duty to all owners to collect assessments. This authority is established in the governing documents and the state’s common interest ownership statutes. When you moved into a common-interest community, you agreed to abide by those documents—and that includes paying assessments.
Excuse #4: “I never use the recreational facilities.”
“I don’t swim. I shouldn’t have to pay to maintain the pool.”
“I’ve never been in the fitness center, and I don’t plan to ever use it. Why can’t you pro-rate my assessments accordingly?”
Admittedly, recreational facilities are expensive to operate and—for some associations—represent a good chunk of the budget. Nevertheless, most declarations specify that even if you don’t use the association’s amenities you’re still obligated to pay for their upkeep.
Many of residents move into a community specifically for the recreational amenities; they’re willing to pay for them because they take full advantage of the opportunities they provide. Even if you’re not using some of the amenities, they make the community more desirable and the homes in the community more valuable. If you’re not using the facilities, perhaps you should consider whether a community with many amenities is the best fit for you and your needs.
Excuse #5: “The fees are too high.”
Assessments reflect the actual cost of maintaining all common elements in the community. If you owned your home outside the association, you would have to pay individually for all the same expenses your assessments cover—trash removal, water, landscaping, and so on. In fact, in most instances you’re actually spending less on assessments because the association has bulk buying power, and you’re getting more because the common areas provide amenities that you likely could not afford on your own.
Legitimate Reasons, not Excuses
When association members lose their jobs or become injured or ill, most association boards understand that arrangements need to be worked out for paying assessments. If you have a legitimate reason for falling behind, you may need to work out a payment plan with the board of directors. Most times a reasonable board will consider each situation individually, and will to try to accommodate special circumstances.
Midtown resident Tim Huffman is a licensed Community Association Manager and holds the CMCA®, AMS® and PCAM® designations from Community Associations Institute.