Condo Assessments

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I bought a condo in DELETED, CA. Zero down. For 7 months I paid every bill on time - mortgages, HOA and taxes until... The Homeowner's Association told us that we MUST pay a $20.500 special assessment.

My realtor had told me nothing about possible coming special assessment. I lived from paycheck to paycheck and had to leave the property.

I didn't pay ANY bills until my property was foreclosed. Today, AFTER ONE YEAR it was foreclosed, I received a letter. They say that I owe "prior the date when the property was foreclosed... delinquent in payment of the assessments, late charges..." $24.773.08

I can agree that I owe HOA monthly payments until the property was foreclosed but special assessment?

With a delay of seven months, I consider it unlikely (although possible) that the assessment was proposed prior to your purchase. It's usually no more than three months from proposal to assessment.

Usually, special assessments of that magnitude are not required to be paid immediately in one lump sum, but rather eligible for payments of so much per month over so many months. However the condo association has the right to levy assessments for repairs and required maintenance. This is part of owning communal or common interest property. Your assessment was larger than most, but the Association does have that right to make those assessments. It's in the CC&Rs, which you had to accept in buying the property - the former owner did not have the right of severing the unit from the association, and neither does the current owner. Usually assessments are recommended to the board by the management company, approved by the board (itself elected by the owners) and confirmed by vote of the owners. You most likely got a ballot in the mail. Whatever you did with yours, a majority of a quorum of owners in your complex voted in favor of the assessment. They need to keep records of all of this - board minutes, ballots mailed, ballots returned and how they voted. My guess is there were pretty good reasons the other homeowners voted for such a large assessment, and unless there's something wrong with how it was conducted, it's a valid lien on your property. If something was concealed from you, it would be in the records of the association.

I doubt you were bamboozled by an already approved assessment. In California, you're required to receive what's called a "condo certification," from the HOA within seven days of the accepted offer. Among other things, that condo certification will show special assessments, whether under consideration or already approved. Furthermore, every single regulated lender in the known world is going to require that condo cert in order to fund the loan, and if there are special assessments known, they will require that you qualify at the increased rate of payment. So I'm betting you got one.

This was a buried problem, and the only way to ferret it out for certain is asking members of the board point blank about any deferred maintenance issues, but sometimes things like this can take an association by surprise. For example: fires, burst pipes, etcetera. A condo inspection only looks at your unit, not all of the others. Alternatively, you've got to walk the entire property looking for problems, and hope it's not hidden inside a something where there's no way to know it's there. One final way that might spot problems is in looking at the level of association reserves in the condo cert. it takes a good buyer's agent to ferret it out before a sale, and an even better one to tell you about it. Most of this stuff isn't part of basic due diligence, and telling you about it is a noteworthy example of "no good deed goes unpunished," because it's going to mess up the transaction, and most clients will kill the messenger by not working with you on their next offer. If you didn't have a buyer's agent, you were all on your own, because that listing agent certainly isn't going to investigate in the first place and get their client angry. There's a reason why Dual Agency is a sucker's game from the buyer's perspective. Well, actually there are hundreds of reasons why, but this is one of them.

It appears that you were the owner of record at the time the assessment was made. It may be payable in payments, but the full amount is due from the owner of record as of the day of the assessment. It's an all or nothing thing. It wouldn't matter if you were two days from buying it - the seller would have to pay it in order to deliver clear title, while you would not be obligated, although if the owner didn't pay it and clear the title, it's unlikely the transaction would proceed. If you were two days from selling it, same story. You would have to pay in order to deliver clear title, as required by the purchase contract, and the buyer would have the right to expect that you would do so, and the title company would refuse to insure the property until you did so, so the transaction would not happen without that assessment being paid. If you had bought it the day before the assessment became effective, well, you would have been informed by the condo certification, but it would be attached to you. You owe this money. The fact that you are no longer the owner as of this moment is irrelevant. Nor does default wipe it out, in general.

The homeowner's association has the right to assess the individual owners for needed repairs and maintenance. Indeed, they have a duty to do so in order to preserve the value and marketability of the property. What this person did was pretty darned silly, but done is done and there are no do-overs in real life. The board and owners don't make assessments gratuitously, because they're also assessing themselves, and every last one of them had to pay that $20,500, the same money this guy would have paid. Twice that, if they own two units. I may wonder what caused a large assessment unforseeably, and consider it likely that a good buyer's agent would have caught some deferred maintenance issues, but the cold hard fact is that he owned the property on the date of the assessment, and he therefore owes the association that money. He needs to talk to a lawyer if he wants to get out of it, but I don't know anything except bankruptcy that might do the trick, and that's only likely to reduce the damage, not wipe it out, and bankruptcy on top of a foreclosure is very bad juju for your credit rating. It could cost him five times as much as the actual money he'd save by not having to pay off the debt in full.

Caveat Emptor

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This page contains a single entry by Dan Melson published on November 29, 2007 7:00 AM.

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Refinancing Has No Effect Upon Property Taxes is the next entry in this blog.

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