The new owner finds out their assumptions were incorrect when they get a Notice of Intent to Lien for unpaid assessments or a Notice of Covenant Violation. The Intent to Lien notices are particularly troubling because this is usually the first notice the homeowner has that assessments are past due and the demand often includes hefty late fees, interest and attorneys' fees. Then every attempt to resolve the debt incurs additional attorneys' fees because every communication with an attorney is billable. Past due assessments are the only time an association can recover attorneys' fees without litigation actually being filed.
Any attempt to set up a payment plan incurs additional attorneys' fees plus fees for administering the plan. It's a moving target to try and resolve this as the appellate courts noted in their ruling in the Ocean Two case.
To make matters worse, there is no defense to not paying assessments, so disputing the debt only adds to the bill. Common sense would dictate the association has a duty to send a past due notice before turning the matter over to an attorney, but there is no law requiring the association to do this. If the debt is not paid the association can foreclose and take the home. It's a very unfair system and often abused by property managers and association attorneys. Hiring an attorney to represent you in a dispute for unpaid assessments means spending thousands of dollars that cannot be recovered.
This is a case of BUYER BEWARE.
Advice for new homeowners:
- Every new homeowner should check if their property is subject to an association. Sometimes it is not even clear there is an association. If your deed references a subdivision name or their is a sign at the entrance of your neighborhood, then you are most likely subject to a mandatory association.
- If you were not given a copy of your governing documents (Declaration of Covenants, Articles of Incorporation, and Bylaws), either download them from the official records of your county (search on YOURCOUNTY County Official Records) or ask your association for a copy. They are required to provide these free of charge. You can find the association's contact information on www.sunbiz.org.
- READ THE DOCUMENTS THOROUGHLY.
- Check with your association to find out when dues are due, how often and the amount. Don't wait for them to send you a bill. It may never arrive.
- Make sure you attend any meetings to discuss assessments and/or the annual budget. It's your chance to protest how your money is being spent.
- If you do not understand the governing documents, seek advice. There are many websites available that discuss associations.
- Vote at your annual election! Even if you live in a great association, it can quickly turn into a nightmare of the wrong people are elected or, worst yet, the wrong people are placed into office without a vote because there is no quorum to hold an election.
Education is the best weapon against a tyrannical association!