The end of March is officially national spring-cleaning week! Your Board’s HOA spring-cleaning checklist should include a check-in with your association’s finances and plan for the rest of the year. While we cannot predict what will happen, the best way to protect the association from uncertainty is to have a financial plan.
SPRING FINANCIAL CHECKLIST:
- Take stock of the association’s revenue
- Adopt an HOA Collections policy
- Educate your homeowners on the importance of paying assessments
Financial “Check-In” Questions:
Spring is a good time to take stock of where the association is, financially speaking. What does the association’s delinquency rate look like? For homeowners who asked for financial accommodations due to the pandemic, have most of them brought their accounts up-to-date, or have many fallen further behind? How is this effecting the association’s revenue and ability to meet expenses? If the delinquency rate is having a negative effect, what steps should the Board take to address delinquencies?
As we move to the end of the first quarter, now is a good time to look at the first couple of months and see whether the association is on track with its budget. Whether the association is on the right track or needs some adjustment, an HOA collections policy is a necessity.
Set Up or Update Your HOA Collections Policy:
Whether the association is doing well with its delinquencies or not, the Board should always have an HOA collections policy. If your association does not have one, now is a great time to formulate one. If your association has a policy in place, it is always a good idea to review it and see if tweaks are needed. A good HOA collections policy provides guidance to the Board on how to handle delinquent accounts and can provide continuity for collections to continue as existing directors retire and new directors come on board.
The most basic HOA collections policy will set thresholds or signposts for when a delinquent account should be placed in collections. These thresholds will differ from association-to-association depending on your needs. If your community has annual assessments, you may decide to place owners in collections after two years. If your association charges monthly assessments, you may need to act after only six months or sooner.
While formulating a plan to address the delinquencies, keep lien protection and the statute of limitations in mind. As we discussed last year, when an individual owner fails to pay assessments, the association is entitled to a lien on the owner’s property to secure the debt. While condominium and homeowners associations submitted to the Georgia Property Owners’ Association Act (“POAA”) are protected by an automatic, statutory lien, homeowners associations that are not submitted to the POAA must file a paper lien in the county lien records to secure their interest. Even if the association has reached an agreement with the delinquent owner, it is important to have a lien filed to protect the association’s interest in the amount past due.
Furthermore, a four-year statute of limitations applies to the collection of assessments. If a delinquent owner’s account is approaching, or is more than, four years past due, the association needs to file suit as soon as possible, or risk being unable to collect on the oldest assessments.
Finally, a good HOA collections policy will have flexibility for unusual situations that the association or owners might be facing. While Boards should generally offer the same concessions to all owners, there may be unique situations requiring a more particular approach. As neighbors and friends, we know that good people sometimes face difficulties that are not their fault. A good HOA collections policy will allow the Board discretion to formulate creative solutions while still preserving the association’s interest in the property and past due account.
Educate Your Members:
Even if the association’s delinquency rate appears manageable, 2020 has taught us to be ready for anything. Although an owner’s obligation to pay assessments is legally independent of the association’s obligation to provide services, most homeowners mistakenly view assessments as a payment in return for services. As you interact with your members throughout the year, it is a good idea to highlight the benefits of living in your community. Being part of a community association enhances and protects everyone’s property values through support for residents, management through a board of directors, and setting and enforcing community standards.
Members may also need reminders about why an association must sometimes take legal action against delinquent owners. Assessments are the lifeblood of community associations, and the community cannot survive without them. It is important for Boards to get a handle on collection issues early, so they do not lead to greater problems. In the aftermath of the housing crisis and the “Great Recession,” community associations faced the perfect storm of rising bankruptcy filings, foreclosures, and unemployment hitting association budgets. Many associations were unprepared, and some developed dire delinquency problems finding themselves unable to fulfill the association’s maintenance and service obligations.
We do not want to repeat those hard lessons from the past. Now is the best time to check your association’s finances, create or revise a delinquency plan and get ahead of potential problems.
Contact NowackHoward to Get Help with Financial Planning and HOA Collections Today
At NowackHoward, our HOA attorneys focus on community association law throughout Georgia. Our attorneys can help HOA Boards avoid the pitfalls of the past and plan for a good year. To learn more about our practices and how we can help guide your community, contact one of our HOA attorneys today at (770) 863-8900 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.