Q: For 13 years I have lived half the year in Florida and the other half up North. For more than a year I have received no communications from the management company of my Florida condo. I know they have both addresses, but they send me no information — until last week, when they managed to find my address to send me a past-due notice of a special assessment I knew nothing about. I never get the annual meeting notice, the budget or the audit.
A: Part-time residents require special handling to switch the addresses twice a year. I'm not making excuses; I appreciate your situation. As a manager, I ask our part-time residents to send a letter each time they move or return, giving official notification of their address and the date when it will be valid. Ultimately it is the responsibility of the board, not the management, to see that addresses are kept up to date and databases are maintained accurately. Write to the board, in care of the management office, explaining your situation and asking that written notifications be sent you at the appropriate address.
Forget interest; consider foreclosure
Q: This is another letter about owners in financial trouble who don't pay their fees, leaving the rest of us holding the bag. Can we charge interest on unpaid assessments at the same rates as credit cards, i.e., 20 to 25 percent? We could borrow against that at a lower rate, which would give us the income we need.
A: Start by studying your documents to see if they allow you to charge interest on unpaid assessments.
Whether they do or don't, charging high interest rates is unlikely to solve your problem. Your delinquent owners can't pay the charges they owe you now. They aren't going to be able to pay you even more. If the lender forecloses, you stand virtually no chance of collecting anything.
You need to sit down with your attorney and create a collections policy. Forget about interest and late fees. Start collections procedures within the first 60 or 90 days, then turn the matter over to your attorney to start lien and foreclosure proceedings.
Private work on association time
Q: The housekeeper we hired to clean the common areas is instead doing private work for individual unit owners during the hours she's supposed to be working for the association. The board is oblivious. What can we do?
A: I urge my boards to adopt policies that prohibit employees from doing private work at any time, even during their off hours and weekends. It's too hard to control who's doing what for whom when (and who is using whose equipment and supplies to do it). It's too easy for an employee to take "just five minutes" during the workday to do a little chore for an owner, and five minutes turns into an hour. Or the next-door neighbor wants something done, too.
There are also liability issues. If an employee, working off the clock for an owner, does damage to the property or is injured, it could be assumed that the association is liable. I know of situations where an employee, on the premises after hours, committed a crime and the association was named in a lawsuit.
My rule: When you're off the clock, you're off the property. I think that policy should apply to outside laborers or vendors too.
If the owners are insistent that they want employees available to do private work, the board can create a system of work orders. The employee does the work while on the clock and the owner is billed for the time and materials.
Richard White is a licensed community associations manager. Write to him c/o Community Living, St. Petersburg Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731. He can't take phone calls or provide personal replies by mail, but you can e-mail him at [email protected] Please include your name and city. On the Web: talkwithcam.com.