General rules on condominium association assessments.
Condominium associations have an automatic perfected lien on the condominium unit, and the assessment debt is a personal obligation of the owner or owners. The Association can charge late fees (10%) of any installment paid late, and interest up to 10% per annum. If the Association wants to file suit to collect the assessments, it must give you a 30 day written notice of its intent to sue to collect the debt. If you owe more than $2000 in assessments, it also has the option to ask a judge for permission to foreclosue on the unit. In most cases, the association can also add legal fees and collection costs. The attorneys fees that can be collection may be more than the basic assessment owed. if the association obtains a judgment against the owner for more than $750, the association also may be able to cut off any utilities that it provides and pays for with your assessments.
Rights of the Association.
The association can charge you a one time late fee of 10% of any installment not paid when due. The association can also charge you up to 10% interest per annum on the amount of assessments and late charges past due. If the association is paying for cable through the assessments, the cable can be disconnected while you are delinquent. The association can also suspend your rights to use common areas and to vote in association elections. Some associations claim the right to prohibit you from parking in the common property even if you have an assigned parking space, although this author questions whether such action is proper in all cases. In any case, you need to be prepared for that claim to be made.
Rights of the Unit Owner
The unit owner has a right to a full accounting of the amounts due. If you received a letter from an attorney or the management company, you can address a written request to that party to verify the amount of the debt and obtain a full ledger of all amounts due. If attorneys fees are demanded, see the section below on attorneys fees. The unit owner does not have a legal right to refuse to pay assessments because the owner claims the association is not providing proper services. There are ways to address that problem, but the law is clear that withholding assessments is not a valid method, and you will end up subjecting yourself to additional costs and fees if you withhold assessments.
Attorneys Fees in Collection Matters
Attorneys fees in assessment collection matters are not liquidated, so there is no pre-established amount the attorney is allowed to charge. There is a requirement that the fees be reasonable and actually incurred. If you pay the debt without a lawsuit, the attorneys may give you a figure for their fees which you think is not reasonable. Your choice may be to try and negotiate the fee (which has a low likelihood of success) or to pay the other amounts (with a letter designating what amounts you are paying for what) and to contest the attorneys fees in court. Our law firm also believes that Georgia law allows you a written notice that you can pay the full amount due in 10 days from the receipt of the notice and you would not be liable for any attorneys fees. Some law firms disagree and insist that you are responsible for all fees claimed from the moment the first letter is written. If you do not a 10 day notice, you can object to the fees, but you will have to fight the issue.
Fair Debt Collection Practices Act
The federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act applies to attorneys and management companies that try to collect association assessments for their clients. That act gives you certain federally protected rights. While a full explanation of the Act is beyond the scope of this guide, two key things apply. If you are approached by an attorney or management firm to collect the debt, you are entitled to request a verification of the debt. A written notice must be sent making that request within 30 days of the notice of your right being given. Until the verification, properly requested, is provided, the debt collector may not take any other actions towards collection of the account. Second, if the debt collector does not give you the proper notices and does not comply strictly with the act, you could bring an action for statutory damages against the debt collector. Be aware that the federal Act does not apply to the Association itself as it is not a debt collector under the Act.
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