Q: When I moved in 2005 (and rented my unit to a tenant), I may have forgotten to give the management company my new address. Apparently the invoice for my 2006 dues was forwarded, since I paid those dues. I never received a 2007 invoice and therefore inadvertently never paid the dues. My tenant forwarded me the 2008 invoice, which I paid promptly. Now I have received a bill for the unpaid 2007 dues, plus expenses for a lien filed against me. I am trying to sell the unit, and my agent has posted a sign outside with his name and phone number. The association made no effort to track me down through him. Believe me, I never intended to avoid paying my dues. No one ever tried to reach me. What are my alternatives here?
A: Your only alternative is to pay your overdue association dues and lien costs immediately. When you bought your unit, you agreed to comply with the documents, which require you to pay your fees on time. It's not the association's responsibility to track you down if you move out. The association is responsible only for sending information to your last known address. Less than 1 percent of owners fail to pay their dues, but some of them are just trying to wait out the association. I appreciate that that was not what you were trying to do, but the bottom line is: Pay up.
Lien should be filed by a lawyer
Q: When we file a lien against a delinquent owner, the actual filing is done by one of our officers, not by our attorney. Is this legal?
A: I wouldn't do it. Your officers may be charged with unauthorized practice of law. That might not invalidate the lien, but if you ended up in front of a judge the lien might be thrown out because it was improperly drafted. A badly drafted lien could place a false cloud on the title.
Legal expenses are added to the lien for the delinquent owner to pay. That means it costs you nothing to have your attorney do the work. Why save the delinquent owner money and put yourselves in a vulnerable position? Use your attorney.
Collection policy bests interest charge
Q: Can we charge interest on late assessments?
A: Only if your documents allow it. If your documents are not specific on this subject, consult with your attorney about what you'd need to do to collect interest. My feeling is that I'd rather see a prompt policy of lien and foreclosure against delinquent owners. A stiff and fast collection policy will do more to make the owners pay on time than applying a passive interest charge.
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. Sorry, he can't take phone calls or provide personal replies by mail, but you can e-mail him at CAMquestions@cfl.rr.com. Please include your name and city. On the Web: talkwithcam.com.