Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Great Foreclosure Debate

Should Community Associations Use Alternatives To Foreclosure To Protect Their Cash Flow?

There is currently raging a great debate. This one has nothing to do with national health care, war in the Middle East, or the future of the Washington Redskins. No, this debate is whether community associations should have the right to use foreclosure as the ultimate delinquent assessment collection tool. Foreclosure is the enforcement device that allows a creditor, in this case a homeowners association, to force the sale of an owner’s condominium or single family house to collect a delinquent association assessment. The practical arguments among the various participants in this debate go back and forth something like this: Assessments are a community association’s cash flow lifeline—if owners fail to pay, the association cannot keep its commitments. Foreclosure is a radical remedy—it costs associations more than they can possibly recover, so why do it? Foreclosure for failure to pay delinquent assessments is the only enforcement mechanism that works.

The legal arguments include: There is really no contract between owners and their association that gives the board of directors the right to foreclose because the owners weren’t parties when the association was created. The CC&Rs are recorded against the title of the owner’s interest and provide for lien rights and hence the right to foreclose. State legislatures have not clearly provided for an association’s right to foreclose.

And finally, the moral arguments: A home is a sanctuary—how can we allow it to be taken away just to satisfy a small arrearage in assessments?  We should not allow owners who do not pay their assessments to live on the backs of those owners who do. Everyone should pay his or her own way. Foreclosing on someone’s home is immoral and community associations should have no right to do it. It just supports a large number of attorneys, property managers, and collection companies.

Anyone who has paid any attention to the articles, blogs, websites, and water cooler conversation about community associations and the recession has heard these arguments, or others like them. Can’t be missed. And the underlying problem is real—thousands of community associations have real cash flow problems because owners are falling behind in their assessments. Enforcement activity is up, and that often means an increase in the number of properties entering the foreclosure process. People are losing their homes for a variety of reasons, but there has been an outcry over whether community associations should be able to enforce delinquent assessments through foreclosure. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Let’s back up and look at how we got here.

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Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Who Do You Trust?

      The Essential Ingredient in Effective 
Management of Community Associations 

     When there is war inside a community association there are usually several sides—the owners, the board of directors, management, and sometimes, lawyers. Each brings their unique perspective to the dispute, and each may distrust the views, or worse, the motives of the other. That they should all be working together to manage a project that is inherently unmanageable is beside the point—when there is a lack of trust cooperation goes by the boards and issues that should be open to easy solutions instead become a battleground. Why are we wasting good ink to discuss disputes that are often inconsequential in the scheme of things? Because lack of trust can paralyze a community association just when economics require unprecedented cooperation.
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A Reader Responds...

What About Absentee Owners Who Won't Serve?

Dear Tyler,
I am the president of our HOA board and I pointed our homeowners to your recent 'blog posting while pleading once again this year for candidates.
One of our resident owners responded with a point about another problem to add to your list and I thought I would pass it along to you.
Thanks for your efforts to educate.
Ken Meeuwse
Pleasant Hill
It occurs to me that Tyler Berding has missed one essential problem with condominiums and their Boards in his article and that is absentee homeowners who rent their units and expect resident homeowners to do all the managing of the association.
I am aware of at least two owners in my building who have owned and rented their units since the association was first organized and have never served on the Board. They are the owners of Unit [] and Unit []. There may be others in the complex and there are other owner/renters in this building who have owned for a number of years and never served as well. I suggest that the current Board make them aware of THEIR responsibility. Since they have relied for 28 years on people like me who have served multiple times on the Board to manage the complex in which theirr investment property is located, I suggest that the Board specifically contact the absentee owner/landlords and tell them that it is their turn to serve.
If they are unwilling to do so, then I think it is time for the Association to explore what legal options we have to take into account the additional cost absentee owners represent to the Association and to resident owners such as the difficulty in getting fixed rate financing on one's unit due to the number of rental units, increased clean up costs from more frequent move in/move out in those units, lack of absentee owner participation on Board, etc. and assess absentee owners accordingly.
Those of us who have served multiple times on the Board have a right to ask those who have not and who have a unit owned here for more than a decade (whether they live here or not) to step up to the plate!

Ken, thanks for your note and for forwarding the comments above. He is correct--absentee owners are less likely to serve on the board of directors than residents.