Please join Husch Blackwell’s Condominium and HOA Law Team and MPC Property Management at the Fireside Restaurant & Lounge on October 24 as we discuss the topics of collections, Husch Blackwell’s new Legal Document Review Program and other legal issues facing your associations.

Topics

  • Bringing your association back to black: collecting those delinquent assessments
  • Husch Blackwell LLP Legal Document Review Program
  • Your questions! We will leave plenty of time for legal Q&A


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Summary

The United States District Court held that a prior recorded condominium lien had priority over a federal tax lien but only to the extent of the amount stated in the lien notice. SO make sure you get everything you should in your lien filing.

I want to thank attorney William Z. Kolobaric and Hirzel Law, PLC in Michigan for bringing this case to my attention and for allowing me to reprint large portions of their blog on this subject.

The Facts

Defendant Pamela Norwood (“Norwood”) bought a condominium unit in March 2015 in the Yarmouth Commons Condominium project (“Condominium Unit”).  On April 6, 2015, the IRS made an assessment of past due income taxes against Norwood for the 2009 tax year she failed to pay but it was not until February 8, 2016 that the IRS recorded a Notice of Federal Tax Lien with the Macomb County Register of Deeds against Norwood’s property in Macomb County, which included the Condominium Unit.  About 10 days earlier, on January 28, 2016, Yarmouth Commons Association (“Association”) recorded a notice of lien with the Macomb County Register of Deeds in the amount of $1,490.00 for unpaid assessments, exclusive of interest, costs, attorney fees and any future assessments which may become due.
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The Board of Directors always has the power to make and amend Rules and Regulations on its own, without owner approval…right? Wrong.  The Board’s rule-making power and authority completely depends upon what authority is given by the Declaration and Bylaws, and as we know, all associations’ Declarations and Bylaws are different!  This is true in Wisconsin and in many other States.  Knowing what is in your governing documents will keep you out of troubling lawsuits.
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For years the FDCPA (Fair Debt Collection Practices Act) has been used as a sword by debtors and debtors attorneys as a means of exacting revenge from those creditors attorneys who failed to strictly, and I mean STRICTLY, follow every small detail of the law. It reached the point that one court called it a “cottage industry” for debtor’s attorneys.

The FDCPA was so difficult to comply with, that even the Federal Circuit Court (the 7th Circuit) in one of its opinions literally included in the opinion the language that it recommended that debt collectors (including attorneys) use in order to comply with the FDCPA.  Unfortunately, even the letter that they wrote within the opinion failed to comply with one aspect of the FDCPA illustrating how difficult compliance can be.
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Castilian Hills Homeowners Association v. Chaffins, (Wash. Ct. App. Oct. 22, 2018)

The Facts

Homeowner bought home in 2004. In 2016, the homeowner failed to pay his $147 assessment.  The homeowners association (“HOA”) assessed a $20 late fee. The homeowner still did not pay, despite the normal language in the HOA governing documents about interest, the right to lien and reasonable attorney fees. After more notices, the HOA filed a lien for $525.52 and then a complaint against the homeowner seeking the $525, plus interest and attorney fees.   The homeowner argued to the court that the HOA was “required by statute to provide notice and an opportunity to be heard” prior to filing a foreclosable lien.
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Some states have statutes that require that Associations provide a notice and opportunity to be heard to a resident before the Association can fine them for a violation of the governing documents. Even though Wisconsin does not have such a statute, providing residents a notice of the alleged violation and opportunity to give their side of the story is an important component of providing due process—which will help make your fines ultimately enforceable.
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The Fair Debt Collection Practice Act (FDCPA) was enacted to protect consumers from unscrupulous debt collectors; as a shield against prohibited acts. However, it is now often used as a sword, by attorneys who are part of a “cottage industry” that simply look for even the smallest of violations and then claim thousands of dollars of attorney fees and damages in their first letter to the alleged violator.
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