Summary

A company that handled fee collections for an Association engaged in unlawful practices when it falsely indicated that a lien had been filed against two homeowners.

Facts

Plaintiffs Chad and Caitlin Truhn fell behind on their assessment payments to their Homeowner’s Association. In their agreement with the Association, the Truhns agreed to pay the cost of collecting their fees, a task the Association outsourced to EquityExperts.org, LLC (“the Collector”). The Truhns eventually settled their debt and brought suit alleging that the Collector’s practices violate the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (“FDCPA”). The Truhns claimed that the Collector’s collection letters contained incorrect and misleading information.
Continue Reading Debt Collectors Adherence to Generic Forms Were Inaccurate and Misleading

Facts

Diane Steele owned a home in the Diamond Farm development, which was managed by the Association. While in accordance with the Association’s declaration of covenants, conditions and restrictions, the Association must obtain at least two-thirds of the members’ total votes to increase annual assessments, assessment increases in 2007, 2011, and 2014 did not receive the requisite two-thirds vote for approval. Consequently, Steele ceased making payments. The Association brought suit seeking unpaid assessments and attorney’s fees. Steele’s defense was that she did not owe dues for the amounts of increases imposed without the supermajority required under the Declaration of Covenants.
Continue Reading Can Homeowners Sue an Association for Increasing Assessments Where the Association Did Not Receive the Requisite Votes Required?

Summary

Even where homeowners characterize their claims against an Association as civil rights violations, the claims involved in the parties’ rights under the declaration, and the declaration’s attorney’s fees provisions applied.

Facts

In 2011, David Merritt, a former HOA board member, and his wife, Salma, sued their Sunnyvale HOA, Classics at Fair Oaks (Classics), as well as three of its board members. The dispute centered on the Association’s covenants, conditions, and restrictions (“CC&Rs”) involving parking restrictions at the Classics. The HOA’s parking policy requires residents to pay for and obtain a permit for each vehicle parked on the street versus in the garage of each residence. The Merritts had a two-car garage, but only parked one car inside it. They argued that they can only park one car in the garage, because Salma is disabled, and needs additional space to enter and exit the vehicle when it is parked inside the garage.
Continue Reading Owners Pay High Price of Litigation Against Association

Summary

If your Association excessively fines an owner, expect a court to find a way to penalize the association.

The Facts

In 2004 Mr. and Mrs. Mills (“Mills”) bought a home in the subdivision called Galyn Manor.  In 2007 Galyn Manor began fining Mills for a commercial work vehicle parked in their driveway in violation of the association rules.  Galyn Manor advised Mills that the fines would be $50 for each day that the commercial vehicle was parked on their property.  By the end of 2007, the fines amounted to $645.  In January of 2008, the association hired the Andrews Law Firm (“Law Firm”) to collect the fines.  Between 2008 and May of 2015 many demands for payment were made, and many payments were made.
Continue Reading Excessive Fines Cause Courts to Find Liability – A Lesson in Fair Debt Collection Practices

Summary

Each owner of a lot in a planned community with multiple subdivisions was required to be a member of the master association – Holly Lake Ranch Association (HLRA).  Some of the owners voted to amend their particular subdivision’s respective deed restrictions.  The effect of which was to add a voting requirement for assessments, mandatory waiver of duplicate fees for additional lots, and restricted HLRA’s lien rights.  In this particular Texas case, Roddy v. Holly Lake Ranch Association, Inc., __ S.E.2d __ (2019), the court found that the amendments were “illegal” and therefore void.  In addition, the court remanded the case to the trial court to determine the reasonableness and necessity of the attorney fees it awarded to HILRA.
Continue Reading Doing Things Wrong can be VERY Costly, Which is Why Using an Experienced Association Attorney Matters

Summary

Declarant owned nine of 10 units, controlled the board and association, failed to have an association bank account, intermingled the assessments that were paid into his business account, never held elections or annual meetings and kept no separate corporate records.  Yet, the Court held that these failures could not be used as an excuse for not paying assessments that were due under the condominium documents.  In other words, you bought into an association, pay your assessments.
Continue Reading Owners are Liable for Assessments, Even When Corporate Formalities Not Perfectly Followed

IMPRESSION: Unit owners who initiate litigation over common elements do not necessarily recoup attorney fees from the association—even when their lawsuit is successful, and benefits the association as a whole.

DETAILS: A shared sewer system in Adams County, Wisconsin, was the focus of a recent dispute between the Sunset Condominiums at Northern Bay Owners Association (“Sunset Condo Assoc.”), and a unit owner of the Sunset Condominiums. Larson v. Castle at the Bay, LLC, 2018 WI App 71, 384 Wis.2d 633, 2018 WL 5307100.  Prior to 2013, the area’s local sewage system was mutually utilized by neighboring developments Timber Shores and Castle at the Bay—despite being considered a common element of Sunset Condominiums.  In 2013, Castle at the Bay declared partial ownership of the sewer system, and proceeded to impose a usage fee upon Sunset Condo Assoc. Rather than respond by threatening litigation, the Sunset Condo Assoc. chose a two-tiered amicable and less expensive approach: (1) agree to shared ownership of the sewer system; and (2) consent to Castle at the Bay’s obligatory usage fees. 
Continue Reading Stuck with the Tab: Initiating Suit Over “Common Elements” Without Association Approval can Lead to Unit Owners Covering Unexpected Attorney Fees

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.
Continue Reading How to Turn $147 into $10,000 – the WRONG Way

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.
Continue Reading The Importance of Due Process—What is a “Notice and Opportunity to be Heard?”

IMPRESSION: A recent Minnesota Court of Appeals ruling served as a stiff reminder to investor-purchasers of condominium units: request of association resale disclosure certificates should be undertaken as a matter of course (in Wisconsin this is essentially the Section 703.165(4) Wis. Stat. statement of the amount of unpaid assessments).

DETAILS: In Bridge Investments, LLC v. Lowry Ridge Townhomes Assoc., LLP, A17-1221 (Minn. Ct. App. 2018) the owner of a condo unit in the Lowry Ridge Townhomes community defaulted on association payments owing over $3,500.00 in assessments.  After foreclosure proceedings, the condo was purchased by the owner’s bank at a sheriff’s sale.  Later, the defaulting owner reacquired the condo via redemption and on the same day sold the unit to Bridge Investments (“Bridge”)—a venture capital and private equity firm.  Bridge recorded its purchase with no knowledge of Lowry Ridge’s assessment lien; which was junior to the bank’s mortgage, but not eliminated by the redemption, and remained attached to the condo when sold. By this time, the outstanding balance reached over $9,000.00 prompting Lowry Ridge to record a lien for the unpaid balance, late fees, attorney’s fees, and costs.  Lowry Ridge attempted to amicably collect its debt rather than foreclose on the unit; however, Bridge felt it was not responsible for payment since it had no notice of the preexisting lien prior to purchasing the condo.
Continue Reading Request Resale Certificates Rather than Roll the Dice