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Legal fees mount as assessment checks vanish

Question: My association is suing me over a special assessment payment it claims I never paid. The association's lawyer has just sent me a bill for more than $400 in legal fees. I sent in this special assessment payment not once but twice. Upon being notified that the first payment never got there, I sent a second check. The association says it never received that one. The checks have never been cashed. The management office doesn't return my calls.

Answer: First, confirm that you have been mailing the checks to the right address. Second, mail your checks from a different mailbox. The one you have been using may be a target for thieves looking for letters containing checks they can cash. Third, consider alternative ways to make your payments that are more secure, such as electronic transfers or online bill payment.

Now, as to your specific problem, you will need proof that you did indeed send the checks. I hope you have good checkbook records. Make copies and send them to the attorney and ask that he reduce the legal fees.

You should immediately pay the special assessment to avoid further costs.

The association should have notified you of the problem in writing before turning the matter over to the attorney. Did you receive notification and fail to respond?

As to the management's failure to return your calls, I would ask this question: When did you call the office and what message did you leave? About 25 percent of messages left at management offices are unreturnable because they are unclear.

Lack of involvement

Question: I'm the president of our homeowners association. I've found our documents to be lacking in specific areas. We tried to get the homeowners to vote on amendments, but only 10 out of 115 sent in their votes. (That is similar to the return we get on annual elections.) Is there such a thing as a corporate resolution, or are there any alternative ways we can make these changes? We were told that the board could pass a resolution on the amendments that would carry a lot of weight if we were taken to court, since the owners did not challenge the amendments.

Answer: I believe it is inappropriate for the board to attempt to change the documents without owner approval. I have no magic trick to persuade people to get interested in voting. If your members don't care to vote, I have to assume that they are satisfied with the way the board is managing the community. Your objective should be to get the owners active with the goal of making changes. Remember, you are one person; your thoughts may not reflect the desires of the majority.

Employee bonuses

Question: I know we can't allocate funds in the budget to pay for parties or for coffee and cake. But can we give nominal year-end bonuses to employees?

Answer: I know of no restrictions on employee bonuses. I suggest you include in the budget an additional amount to cover bonuses. Another idea is to create a special fund and allow residents to contribute for employees' holiday bonuses. This way a small collection from most owners can be pooled into a larger bonus for employees.

Write to Richard White, 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 CAMquestionsbigfoot.com. Please include your name and city. Questions should concern association operations; legal opinions cannot be offered. For specific legal advice, contact an association attorney.

To discuss provisions of the state condo/co-op acts, call the state Bureau of Condominiums office in Tallahassee at (800) 226-9101 or (850) 488-0725 or call the Tampa bureau at (800) 226-6028, (800) 226-4472, or (813) 744-6149. Or write to the Bureau of Condominiums, Education Section, Suite 200, 4524 Oak Fair Blvd., Tampa, FL 33610. Please note that this office provides no information about homeowners' associations. The state has no bureau or department covering those associations.

You can access the Bureau of Condominiums Web site at http:// www.state.fl.us/dbpr/html/ lsc/copage.html.

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