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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