According to the Community Associations Institute, nearly 60 million people across the country live in association-governed communities. Many of these communities have been severely affected by the current economic downturn and increase in foreclosure rates. In a condominium or homeowners’ association, delinquencies and foreclosures create a ripple effect that impacts all owners. Once an owner ceases paying assessments, the association must either incur costs to collect the assessments, increase the amount of assessments to other owners, cut back on services, or some combination of the three. The problem is compounded when multiple owners become delinquent.
The biggest mistake an association board can make is ignoring the problem and hoping that delinquent owners will eventually catch up. An association must have a properly enacted collection policy and adhere to it. For example, the policy may state that an owner whose payment is 30 days late will receive a reminder letter from the board. An owner who is 60 days late will receive a collection letter from the association’s attorney indicating that a lien will be filed if the past due amount is not paid promptly. At 90 days past due, the board should authorize the association’s attorney to file a lien to secure the delinquent assessments. Beyond 90 days, the matter should be reviewed by the board to determine if it is appropriate to file a foreclosure action.
The decision to file a foreclosure action can be a difficult one and must be made on a case-by-case basis. The association’s lien is generally going to be lower in priority than the owner’s first mortgage, and possibly a second or third mortgage as well. This means that unless the property sells at sheriff’s sale for more than the total amount due under the mortgage or mortgages, the association will not receive payment. Additionally, the association will have to bear the costs associated with pursuing a foreclosure action. Nevertheless, it may be worthwhile for the association to file the foreclosure action because it may prompt the owner to pay the delinquent assessments. Even if the owner fails to pay, and the property is ultimately sold at sheriff’s sale without the association receiving any of the sale proceeds, the association may ultimately be much better off having a new owner who will (hopefully) be better about paying assessments. State law and the association’s declaration may permit the association to assess its costs of collection, such as attorneys’ fees and court costs, to the delinquent owner. The association should carefully track these expenses and consult with its attorney to determine if they can be recovered from the delinquent owner.