HOA troubles -- Advice please!!

Discussion in 'Credit Talk' started by lakpr, Aug 19, 2003.

  1. lakpr

    lakpr Well-Known Member

    Hi all,

    Please bear with me, this may be a long post.


    I bought my condo about 3 years ago (Oct 2000). Since then, I had been paying the Homeowner Association dues monthly using my credit union's Bill Payer service (Checkfree).

    At the beginning of every year, our HOA sends us a coupon booklet to send our payments with. I usually ignore the coupons, and only update the amounts of the recurring monthly charges at the beginning of each year.

    Our HOA changed their P. O. Box number (though not the city and post office location) in January of this year. They did not specifically mention that they were doing it; only printed the new address on the coupons they sent us. I did not notice it, and as usual, simply changed the amount. My payments continued to be sent to the old P. O. Box. I did wonder why it was taking them so long to post my checks, but thought nothing more of it.

    In June 2003, I got a letter from them saying that they noticed that I had been sending my payments to the wrong P. O. Box address, and that the post office had been forwarding my checks to them as a courtesy, and that I should make note of the change. I immediately changed the payment address in my Bill Payer, but it was too late for June payment. July and Aug payments were mailed to the correct address, however.

    Today, I get a letter asking me to pay fine of $120.00 for all the previous months that payments have been posted late to my account. If I don't pay before Aug 31, a lien for this amount would be placed on my home.

    My thoughts:

    While it is true that I did not notice the change of address, it is also equally true that they did nothing to indicate this to me either through a formal letter, or immediately after the first late payment. They let the fines accumulate until 6 months before making any contact with me. They knew all the time where I lived, and my phone number, but never contacted me. Don't they have any responsibility for this?

    I do not feel responsible to pay $120, as I made good faith efforts to make payments on time every month. I feel that I would be liable for only $20 fine for the first month for failing to notice the change of address, no more. Had they contacted me in January immediately, that would have been the extent of my liability; by sitting on their rumps until June, they compounded the problem.

    How do I approach this problem? Can any of you knowledgeable folks point out any laws that our HOA violated, that I can use as leverage in negotiating with them?

    I live in NJ, if that matters. Any help is sincerely appreciated.
  2. BKinUT

    BKinUT Member


    Do you have your copy of the bylaws for your condominium? It is very common for needed assessments to be made during the year that you would be responsible to pay. Usually the base condo fees would only be recalculated once a year, but they could very easily change at any time with short notice if needed. Our HOA sends a copy of the minutes of the previous meeting to every homeowner along with the next month¡¦s bill. That way, no one can plead ignorance. Whatever they mail you ¡V I would NOT ignore it.

    Does your HOA hire a management company to manage the building and collect fees? If so, the address change may have very will been a change of management companies and the Post Office MAY have had an address change filed IF addressed to the HOA and not the management company. Then the letter from the HOA was a courtesy to remind you of the change.

    If your June payment was not received, there should have been a late fee posted on your July bill and another on your August bill. If your payments were received late for 6 months, it would be very unusual for them to have not sent you a bill for the late charges (which are usually not called a ¡§fine¡¨.

    If you open your dialogue with the HOA about the potential laws they have broken, your are just inviting them to kick your butt. ¡§They¡¨ have already told you they will file a lien in two weeks ¡V you DON¡¦T want that on your credit report, even if you win eventually.

    The first thing you need to establish is ¡§Who THEY is¡¨. If ¡§they¡¨ is a management company, contact them first about rectifying the ¡§situation¡¨. If you have just disregarded the bills they sent you, pay up. If no bills or address change notice were truly never mailed to you, then suggest that you should only be liable for the one late charge. If the Management Company is truly at fault, then you need to address the HOA. At this point, it will serve no useful purpose to get nasty with the Management Company.

    It is best to address the HOA at the monthly condo board meeting, but you are looking at that lien to be filed on Aug. 31. Start with a board member that you know personally if possible and explain the situation to them. Don¡¦t be surprised if this is the first they have heard of it. That board member can take up your case with the other board members and quite possibly get it resolved quickly. If you don¡¦t know a board member, find out who they are and contact them. If the management won¡¦t give you their home or work phone numbers (remember, they deserve the same privacy anyone else does) ask the management company to contact the board president and request that they contact you at their earliest convenience.

    Remember, the condo board members are your neighbors ¡V you have to live with them and they have to live with you. A board of jerks sometimes happen, but usually the board wants to resolve problems and stay friends. They have the power to ¡§negotiate¡¨ with you for a fair resolution. They have the power to stop the lien from being filed if still in dispute. You may be surprised to find how eager they are to remedy your situation.

    Remember, the HOA has all the power here! But they still have to obey the law of the city and state your reside in, as well as the bylaws of your condominium. If all else fails, it is probably cheaper and less stressful to pay the entire late fee to avoid the lien and then request five minutes of time during the next board meeting (which is open to all owners) and present your case (now it will be in the minutes) asking for a refund of unfair fees at that time. As a last resort, you have to ask yourself if it is worth the time and money to sue the HOA. I have a pre-paid legal services plan, otherwise it could cost a fair amount of money for an attorney to get involved, or cost you a lot of time and irritation to represent yourself. The fact is that the board members on a HOA are protected from most liability unless they purposefully broke the law ¡V you are really suing all of your neighbors, as well as yourself!

    A last thought - If you are using an automatic service to mail your payment close to the due date ¡V move up the due date so it can never be received late.

    You really should attend the open meetings for your HOA ¡V usually once a month. The condo is your HOME ¡V you should be aware of what shape it is in, what problems may be on the horizon, how much money they have in the bank for emergencies, etc. Get to know the board members and share your views with them. After we bought our condo a few years ago, we found out the sorry shape it was really in. Most of the owners were on fixed income and didn¡¦t want to spend money and it quickly became run down. It has taken a new board, thousands of dollars in needed and emergency repairs, thousands more to start preventative maintenance and three additional assessments to replace/repair the heating/AC, put on a new roof, landscape and paint the building and plan for the future. It was all done over time without bringing financial ruin to those on fixed incomes. But now we live in a beautiful building and everyone is becoming proud of it. The property values have appreciated considerably!) We helped lead the way by ¡§gutting¡¨ and remodeling our unit (it is 40 years old) and many of the neighbors have followed suit. Many more are planning renovations now that the building is attractive outside. Life just gets better every day......... :)

    Good luck to you - I hope you can get your situation resolved soon.

  3. BKinUT

    BKinUT Member

    re: Previous post!

    Sorry about the graphics in the above post. I used "quote marks" while composing my reply in WORD. Apparently the software on this board does not like the software from the big "M" and ate my quote marks, regurgitating them into my reply! It even made my smiley face make an obscene gesture........


    GEORGE Well-Known Member


    They had a responsibility to contact you about the NEW PO BOX NUMBER...and ask about the "LATE" payments...They can call or write or ring your doorbell when the FIRST ONE WAS LATE...they caused the problem to increase in size...THEY WAITED MORE THAN 6 MONTHS!!!

    MITIGATING DAMAGES is you MUST try to prevent any more damage...

    WATER MAIN BREAKS IN THE BASEMENT...YOU LET IT GO BECAUSE IT IS INSURED...but you must call the water company...the plumber...and try to shut the water off even if you will get wet...and can't swim!!! Or run next door for help...BUT YOU MUST "TRY" TO STOP THE LEAK...


    "IF" your worried about a LIEN...you could pay...then FILE ON THEM IN SMALL CLAIMS COURT...
  5. lakpr

    lakpr Well-Known Member


    Thanks for your input. My replies to the points you raised are in blue:

  6. lakpr

    lakpr Well-Known Member


    Thanks for your input ... that's what I think too. But do you know if there is any federal law that I can look up that establishes that in print?

    My plan is to first negotiate for the waiver of this late fee, but if it does not work, I plan to approach small claims court ...

    I am worried about the lien, and if the initial meeting does not work out, I will pay the fee under protest and then plan my subsequent action ..

    GEORGE Well-Known Member


    It does not look like they even tried...till more than 6 months went by...
  8. cinderella

    cinderella Well-Known Member


    HOA's are regulated by state laws, so check your state code as well as your bylaws. It would seem to me that they certainly should have provided a current mailing address.

    In my experience with HOA's in this kind of a situation, and I have had **many**, I have just "paid under protest." It is not worth the lien, which will likely be more expensive than the $120. In my state, HOA's can do nonjudicial liens very easily and follow-up quickly with foreclosure proceedings which will cost even more $$.

    You can take the issue up at the next board meeting, and politely request reimbursement.

    And for the record, I don't particularly get along with my HOA. I think they are bunch of power hungry morons that have nothing else better to do in their "twilight years." After five years of living in my complex and recently taking over the mortgage for the house, they still bill the HOA dues in my dh's grandma's name, she's been dead since 1998.

    GEORGE Well-Known Member

    Re: Re: HOA troubles -- Advice please!!


    OR "I'm sorry you didn't get the news...but GRANDMA has been dead since 1998...you don't have to send flowers...it is too late"
  10. cinderella

    cinderella Well-Known Member

    Re: Re: HOA troubles -- Advice please!!

    Normally, I am very civil person with any kind of dispute. But they have crossed the line (parking fines...liens....towed cars). They have been getting our checks since 1998. When I ref'ied, escrow had to notify HOA of the new legal owners. I KNOW THEY KNOW we are the owners. Just like the President and other members of the board KNOW whose dog did the drive by and "left a little present" on their lawns, their much older than me and are usually in bed by 9pm.....no witnesses at midnight:)
  11. Butch

    Butch Well-Known Member

    Re: Re: HOA troubles -- Advice please!!

    Often, especially for a larger institution that processes a great many checks, they'll have the checks sent to a special PO Box, which is then picked up by the bank and immediately deposited. A daily statement can often be generated to advise the company of all the activity.

    I'd bet when they changed banks, they also had to change mailing addresses. The PO just forwarded as a courtesy.

    But to your point; YES, I would insist that the change of address notification must be "conspicuous", and probably even "stand alone", meaning no other items of info. along with it.

    My attitude would be that "I can't help it if you guy's don't know that not everyone sits down to write out checks every month for this stuff. If I have to drag you, kicking and screaming into the 21st century, I will".

    Geo. is exactly right. They are required to "mitigate" to the max. extent possible. They should have been all over this thing to get it straightened out IMMEDIATELY, if not sooner.

    Send them a letter outlining all this and tell them you'll pay half. If it got to court that would look VERY reasonable to any judge. If you have to pay the whole thing you'll do so under protest, and sue their butt's off in court.

    Give them these 2 alternatives, and then tell em to pick one.

    To help them make the right decision, I'd include a check for 60 bux, with "paid in full" in the memo portion. That may not be legally binding but it'll get your message across. Put it in your letter too. Here's 60 bux to settle the whole stupid thing, etc..

    They most likely will deposit it, and that'll be the end of it.

  12. Butch

    Butch Well-Known Member

    Re: Re: Re: HOA troubles -- Advice please!!

    Correction. Cinderella has a great point. If they're all 100 years old that would explain the above.

  13. Flyingifr

    Flyingifr Well-Known Member

    Re: Re: Re: HOA troubles -- Advice please!!

    I think you all are missing a couple of key points.

    1: In most states, HOA's are pretty much a law unto themselves. Here in AZ they can do pretty much whatever they want short of putting out a Hit Contract on you. California is similar in giving HOA's incredible power to mess with your life.

    2: These are basically your neighbors, and it isn't smart to get someone mad at you who has the power than a HOA has.

    I would go to the HOA Board and say "look, I paid timely in good faith. Your change of address wasn't as conspicuously posted as it could have been. Now that it's been corrected, how about doing the neighborly thing?"

    You can always fight them in court, but I suspect you have a better chance of talking with them first. Pick your fights carefully, and only dig your heels in when you know you can win. HOA'S CAN FILE LIENS AGAINST YOUR HOME WITH NO NOTICE TO YOU. If they do this, and you have a mortgage, that could be considered an Act of Default and now you're not only battling your HOA, you're fighting off a foreclosure at the same time.
  14. lakpr

    lakpr Well-Known Member

    Re: Re: Re: HOA troubles -- Advice please!!

    GEORGE, Butch, Flyingifr ...

    Thanks to you all for your input. I had tried to incorporate all your suggestions and am planning to send the following letter, CMRRR of course, to my HOA. I tried to avoid any threat of legal action in my letter, and frankly, I don't think I'd have stomach for it. I plan on making a good faith attempt to resolve this issue amicably. Although, I am enrolling in my credit union's Prepaid Legal Services Plan immediately in anticipation of a future legal battle... (starts from Monday Aug 25)

    Please critique this letter and send me your suggestions ...

    Many thanks!!

  15. Butch

    Butch Well-Known Member

    Re: Re: Re: HOA troubles -- Advice please!!

    I like it Lakpr.

    But I'd go with $60, I really would.

    You're meeting them half way. That might
    be important in the future.

    As surely as they ought not argue about the difference, ($60) you ought not argue about $40.
    ($60 - $20 = $40)

    It's worth your time to just blow $40 to make it go away.

    Good luck. Let us know what happens.

  16. Flyingifr

    Flyingifr Well-Known Member

    Re: Re: Re: HOA troubles -- Advice please!!

    I like it too, but I wouldn't send any money with the letter. let the HOA come back to you with a reply. You send them money and it looks like you'readmitting you were wrong. All you admitting to is not seeing an inconspicuous change of THEIR address. If they see it your way you get off free. If they don't you can always argue the "contributory negligence" agument later (I'm half wrong, you're half wrong, let's settle for half).
  17. Flyingifr

    Flyingifr Well-Known Member

    Re: Re: Re: HOA troubles -- Advice please!!

    I like it too, but I wouldn't send any money with the letter. let the HOA come back to you with a reply. You send them money and it looks like you're admitting you were wrong. All you admitting to is not seeing an inconspicuous change of THEIR address. If they see it your way you get off free. If they don't you can always argue the "contributory negligence" agument later (I'm half wrong, you're half wrong, let's settle for half).
  18. Butch

    Butch Well-Known Member

    Re: Re: Re: Re: HOA troubles -- Advice please!!

  19. lakpr

    lakpr Well-Known Member

    Re: Re: Re: Re: HOA troubles -- Advice please!!

    Hi Butch and Flyingifr (and others who are interested):

    Just thought I'd give an update about this situation. I took Butch's suggestions to enclose $60 instead of $20 that I originally planned. Since they were threatening to place a lien on my house, I thought it might be worth to sweeten the pot a little.

    I modified the last paragraph from my letter from above as below (changes in bold and underlined):

    In addition to the above modifications, I also have written a restrictive endorsement on the back of the check with the following words (all of it DID fit on the back of the check :) )

    I sent the letter CMRRR. It was received on last Friday (Aug 22). And today, the check is cashed!

    I do not know how legalese-confirming these words are, and if they have any effect. But I think, inspite of my legal naivete, if it ever comes to court, they cannot argue that they did not agree to the terms.

    So, hopefully this problem is resolved, and I no longer have to fight a lien on my home.

    Your feedback on my letter, any mistakes I made, any pats-on-the-back, etc. welcome. Any thing I might have to watch for in the future?
  20. lakpr

    lakpr Well-Known Member

    shameless self serving bump

Share This Page