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Past Due Assessments Risk Your Home Ownership

Posted by attorney Barbara Stage

Once assessments become past due the payoff amount becomes a moving target because each phone call or email adds legal fees to the amount due. The appellate courts actually noted this in a ruling that acknowledged owners are at a severe disadvantage when trying to obtain the payoff amount or negotiate a payment plan. Even the HOA Act recognizes this disadvantage and states this in the statutes.

Adding to the problem is the misunderstanding by owners that the association will waive legal fees. They are entitled by law to collect all legal fees, interest and, if the governing documents authorize late fees, those too. Plus any payments are applied to these first and assessments last.

On top of all of this you have association attorneys who know they have absolute power over you. You either pay them what they want or you're homeless. They take the opportunity to over bill, which is a violation of the rules of ethics for the Florida Bar.

I had a client once who tried to contact a well-known firm to pay her past due bill. This firm does not take phone calls or let you pay in person. You must contact them by email or fax. Problem is the email they provide is to an assistant and they have a high turnover of staff. My client was emailing former employees who didn't work there. When I stepped in they wanted $3,600 in legal fees for a small debt. They said eventually they read "all those emails" and it took a lot of time. These firms often don't respond, but you do pay for them to read your email or listen to your voice message.

Since these law firms are pretty much unregulated, they get away with this. Until owners start filing complaints or the State of Florida decides to protect owners from abuse with better laws, your home is at risk of being taken away from you over a small debt.

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