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Failing Condo Associations - Finance Alternatives


What to do if your HOA jacks up your fees with ‘emergency' charges

Home sweet home is turning a bit bitter in some places, especially when condo owners and HOA members are hit with additional condo fees from their homeowners associations (HOA) and condo associations that are spurred by condo budget shortfalls caused by widespread foreclosures.

In Florida, HOAs and condo associations have hit homeowners and condo owners with "emergency condo fees" to make up for condo budget deficits. In some cases, cash-strapped families have been asked to pay $600 or more in extra annual condo assessments to make up for other neighbors who either have stopped paying HOA fees or have left the HOA or Condo Assoicaition because of foreclosure.

Some condo associations report that nearly 40 percent of condo owners aren't paying their HOA fees. That can put a condo association in arrears for six figures and up, covering items like landscaping, pool repair, clubhouse maintenance, tennis court upkeep and more.

Beyond immediate one-time additional assessments, some HOAs are increasing their annual dues heading into the New Year.

In some cases, banks that are holding foreclosed properties find themselves liable for HOA fees.

According to news reports from Phoenix - which, like many areas of Florida, has among the highest foreclosure rates in the country - one condo association is more than $1 million in debt. The San Tan Heights neighborhood near Phoenix is asking 2,000 homeowners to pay a $750 assessment to make up the difference.

That condo association faces potential bankruptcy and is evaluating its options - including selling deeds to common areas to make up for budget deficits.

No area of Florida has expressed that level of desperation - yet. For homeowners faced with HOA troubles, a real estate attorney can help evaluate a course of action.

On top of that, here are some tips:

--Know your rights. Examine the homeowners' association document you signed. This governing condo document should describe how expenses are shared and specify a member's proportional share. How additional condo assessments are levied also should be covered. If you're not sure, contact your real estate attorney.

--Check on the condo reserve fund: Some condo associations have a reserve fund - an account that's tapped on a rainy day or earmarked for specific projects. A reserve might be on hand to pay for things like streets in a private, gated community, a tennis court repair or other items that emerge after years of wear and tear.

--Participate in the process: The condo association is there for owners, so go to the meetings. Ask for a schedule of meetings.

--Keep condo board members working for the interests of the community. Once you're there, ask questions. And, as angry as you might be, mind your manners. Condo Association board members are volunteers and will respond better to a member that isn't engaged in name-calling or other disrespectful behavior. One tactic is to speak with board members privately, either before or after meetings.

--Renegotiate service contracts: Is it time to call service providers - landscapers pool services and the like - and ask to revisit the contract? Ask if a new payment schedule can be reworked so that services, even if reduced, will continue.

Get your condo association a condo association loan or HOA loan in the case of capital repair projects.

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