The economic crisis has affected almost everyone, so it’s understandable how homeowners might be struggling to pay bills on time. For those in Homeowners Associations, though, being late with monthly dues can be disastrous.
Many homeowners who’ve been late paying dues have faced bills for thousands of dollars in collection costs. The typical HOA doesn’t care if a homeowner is facing hardship. It wants its money now, and will impose heavy sanctions at the drop of a hat.
Denise Erkeneff has served as president of her HOA in the past. But when she was late on her dues at the Sea Ridge Condos in Dana Point, California, she was stunned at how her case was handled.
She says unexpected fees kept popping up on statements from her HOA’s management company, fees such as “$125” or “$311.11” for late fees. She admits her payments were late, but always paid within 45 days, and she always included the customary late fee of $10. Several times she asked her board to remove the excessive late charges, but they refused.
Erkeneff says one day she got a “notice of intent to lien” from the Judge Law firm. It included a bill for $4,622.22, along with two uncashed checks she had written to pay her monthly dues. She believes her checks were intentionally not cashed so the lien could be filed.
California is one of the few states that has an active, aggressive homeowner’s advocate. The Center for California Homeowners Association Law, or CCHAL, advises homeowners to take disputes like this one to Small Claims Court. The organization even puts out a DVD instructing homeowners on how to use the process.
Still, Small Claims Courts often don’t recognize or aren’t aware of new laws which theoretically protect homeowners from predatory collection firms. Erkeneff says she did take her case to court, but the judge ruled against her.
Erkeneff told reporter Kelli Hart Kehler of the Orange County Register, “Small Claims Court does not understand the intricacies of civil code.”
Other homeowners have discovered, however, that Small Claims Court sometimes does rule against HOAs in favor of the homeowner. In fact, CCHAL keeps track of many such cases. The organization is a members-only group. They can be reached at CalHomeLaw.org.