Articles Posted in Assessments

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*New Case Lawhoa-assessment-debt

Recovering delinquent assessment debt is one of the more complicated issues that homeowners associations (“HOAs”) face. Fortunately, the Civil Code grants HOAs with significant remedies to recover delinquent assessment debt, including the ability to record assessment liens and to ultimately enforce those liens through foreclosure. However, HOA Boards, managing agents and collection professionals understand that the laws governing such remedies are complex, and a string of California court decisions in recent years have affirmed the necessity for HOAs to strictly comply with these legal requirements. The recent case of Mashiri v. Epsten Grinnell & Howell (2017) 845 F.3d 984 is an example.

Civil Code Section 5660 requires associations to provide delinquent homeowners with notice of the HOA’s intent to record an assessment lien (i.e., to send a “pre-lien letter”) at least thirty (30) days prior to recording the assessment lien.  As such, most pre-lien letters demand that payment be made within this thirty (30) day period (e.g., “Demand is hereby made that you remit payment within thirty days of the date of this notice or else a lien will be recorded”).  However, according to the Court’s decision in Mashiri, such a demand for payment within this timeframe may violate the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (“FDCPA”).

In Mashiri an owner became delinquent in the payment of assessments to the HOA. As a result, the HOA, through its legal counsel sent the homeowner a pre-lien letter.  The letter stated in part:

This letter is to advise you that $598.00 is currently owing on your Association assessment account.  Failure to pay your assessment account in full within thirty-five (35) days from the date of this letter will result in a lien being recorded against your property….

Unless you notify this office within 30 days of receiving this notice that you dispute the validity of the debt or any portion thereof, this office will assume the debt is valid.  If you notify this office in writing within thirty (30) days of receiving this notice that the debt, or any portion thereof, is disputed, we will obtain verification of the debt….

The Court concluded that this language violated the FDCPA in two (2) respects. First, the FDCPA requires the written notice (here, the pre-lien letter) to provide the debtor with thirty (30) days to dispute the debt. While the pre-lien letter demanded payment within thirty-five days of the date of the letter, such language is inconsistent with the requirement that it be upon receipt of the letter. The Court pointed out that, “[b]y the time a debtor receives such a letter, there may be fewer than thirty days before payment is due.”  (Id. at p. 991.) As such, the “least sophisticated debtor, when confronted with such a notice, would reasonably forego her right to thirty days in which to dispute the debt and seek verification.” (Id. at p. 991-92.)

Second, the FDCPA requires a debt collector to cease all collection efforts “until the debt collector obtains verification of the debt . . . and a copy of such verification . . . is mailed to the consumer by the debt collector.”  (Id. at p. 992; quoting 15 U.S.C. § 1692g(b).) The pre-lien letter at issue in Mashiri simply stated that a lien would be recorded if the debtor failed to pay.  Thus, the “least sophisticated debtor would likely (and incorrectly) believe that even if she disputed the debt,” and the debt collector had not mailed the verification of debt to the debtor, the debt collector would nevertheless record a lien against the property. (Id.)  “In this manner, the letter effectively overshadows the disclosed right to dispute by conveying an inaccurate message that exercise of the right does not have an effect that the statute itself says it has.” (Id.; quoting Pollard v. Law Office of Mandy L. Spaulding (1st Cir. 2014) 766 F.3d 98, 105.)

California HOA lawyers HOAs should be cognizant of the requirements under both the Civil Code and the FDCPA, and should ensure that the pre-lien letters being prepared by the HOA’s managing agent and/or legal counsel is compliant with the Court’s holding in Mashiri. The language should include a statement concerning the owner’s right to dispute the debt, as well as provide a sufficient amount of time from receipt of the letter to dispute the debt in order to prevent a lien from being recorded. The holding in Mashiri emphasizes the necessity for HOAs to retain the services of qualified collection firms that are aware of these statutory requirements and understand how the collection process must be managed so as to avoid potential problems. HOAs in need of collection services may contact our firm’s affiliate, Alterra Assessment Recovery.

-Blog post authored by TLG Attorney, Matthew Plaxton, Esq.

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Taxes-PictureA bi-partisan group of the House of Representatives would like to think so.  According to the Community Associations Institute (CAI), more than 66 million Americans live in homeowners associations across the country, with an estimated 13 million of them living in California.  These homeowners pay assessments to cover the costs of road maintenance, street lighting, street cleaning, snow removal and other municipal services.  However, they also pay for these services through their local, county, or state property taxes.  U.S. Representatives Anna G. Eschoo (D-CA) and Mike Thompson (D-CA) have introduced H. R. 4696, the “Helping Our Middle-Income Earners (HOME) Act” to correct this double-taxation.  The bill is co-sponsored by US Representative Barbara Comstock (R-VA).

Under the Home Act, association members with annual incomes of $115,000 or less (or $150,000 in the case of joint returns) would be eligible for a tax deduction of up to $5,000 for qualifying assessments.  To qualify, assessments must be mandatory and regularly occurring, apply to the taxpayer’s principle residence, and benefit the taxpayer’s principle residence.  The obligation to pay assessments must also arise out of the taxpayer’s automatic membership in the association.  Under these provisions, special assessments and rental properties would not qualify for the deduction.

Homeowners associations would be required to provide a statement to each member showing the name, address, and tax ID number of the homeowner, the amount of qualified assessments received from the homeowner during the calendar year, and the name, address, and phone number of the contact person for the association.  The statement must be provided annually by January 31st.

“The Home Act recognizes that millions of middle class homeowners are struggling to keep up with rising household expenses like child care, college tuition, health care, mortgage and community assessments,” says Rep. Eschoo.  “The Home Act can go along way by providing relief from this tax burden on millions of middle class families.”

“Congress needs to do all that it can to reduce barriers to homeownership for hard-working middle class families,” said Thompson.  “By helping to alleviate the cost of community association fees this legislation is an important step.”

hoa laws The Home Act has been referred to the House Committee on Ways and Means, but may have trouble moving forward during an election year.  CAI has taken a “support” position on the bill, and has issued a Call to Action to seek additional sponsors.  Even if the bill does not pass in 2016, it sends a message to the legislative committees working on tax code changes, that it’s an initiative whose time has come.

Blog post authored by Tinnelly Law Group’s Director of Business Development, Ramona Acosta.

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hoa-transfer-fees.jpg*New Legislation

Civil Code Section 4530 sets forth the responsibility of homeowners associations (“HOAs”) to provide copies of governing documents, financial disclosures and other documents to a homeowner (or a homeowner’s authorized agent) within ten (10) days of a receipt of a request for those documents. This applies in the context of a sale of a property (a unit or lot) within a HOA. The documents to be produced are identified in Civil Code Section 4525, and are commonly known as “Transfer Disclosure Documents.”

Section 4530 does provide a HOA with the right to “collect a reasonable fee” based upon its efforts in producing, preparing and delivering Transfer Disclosure Documents. However, in satisfying this request and in seeking reimbursement, disputes would sometime arise as to whom should pay the fee (i.e., should it be the seller of the property or the prospective purchaser).

Fortunately, AB 2430 (Maienschein), effective January 1, 2015, has amended Section 4530 to specify the seller’s obligation to compensate the HOA for the aforementioned fee. Other notable changes in the law that will result from AB 2430 include:

  • The HOA must provide an estimate of the fees that will be assessed in producing the Transfer Disclosure Documents, prior to producing them.
  • The fees must be “separately stated” and “separately billed” from all other fees, fines or assessments that are billed as part of the transaction.
  • The Transfer Disclosure Documents may not be bundled with any other documents.
  • If the seller is in possession of any Transfer Disclosure Documents, the seller is required to provide copies to the prospective purchaser at no cost.
  • The form used for estimating the fees, as described in Civil Code Section 4528, is amended to include the following within the rightmost column of the form: “Not Available (N/A), Not Applicable (N/App), or Directly Provided by Seller and confirmed in writing by Seller as current document (DP).”
hoa laws AB 2430’s primary benefit is in clarifying the party responsible for a HOA’s costs in producing the Transfer Disclosure Documents (the seller). This should prevent needless billing disputes that hinder property transfers within HOAs. However, HOA Boards and especially management professionals should recognize the need to provide the estimate of fees via the Section 4528 form before producing the Transfer Disclosure Documents, and that failing to do so may inhibit the HOA’s ability to ultimately recovery them.

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*New Case Lawhoa-partial-payments.jpg

Collecting delinquent assessments remains one of the more challenging and frustrating aspects of a homeowners association’s (“HOA’s”) operations. Once a delinquent file is forwarded to a HOA’s collection company or law firm, industry practice has been to reject any partial payments made by the delinquent homeowner (i.e., to reject any payments that do not cover all of the delinquent assessment amount, including late fees, interest, collection costs, etc.) that have accrued on the homeowner’s account. That approach has been based upon the language set forth in Civil Code Sections 5655 and 5720. Civil Code Section 5720 allows for a HOA to foreclose on a delinquent assessment lien only where the delinquent assessment amount is $1,800 or greater, or are more than 12 months delinquent. Civil Code Section 5655, however, sets forth the way in payments made by a delinquent homeowner must be allocated (i.e., first to the delinquent assessment amount, then to collection fees, late charges, etc.).

Accordingly, if a homeowner is allowed to make a series of partial payments that must first be applied to the delinquent assessment amount, the homeowner could structure a way in which to avoid foreclosure of his property (i.e., through keeping the delinquent assessment amount under $1,800 or under 12 months delinquent), while not paying all or any of the amounts necessary to cover the HOA’s collection fees and costs it has incurred in connection with the homeowner’s delinquency. This would ultimately place the HOA in a difficult position of having to incur more collection fees and costs solely to collect the unpaid collection fees and costs which the HOA has already incurred. Thus, collection companies and firms have traditionally rejected partial payments in order to avoid this problem–especially in light of the absence of any language in the Civil Code explicitly requiring HOAs to accept partial payments. If the homeowner desires to provide partial payments, the only opportunity to do so would be pursuant to a payment plan executed between the homeowner and the HOA.

However, a recent decision from the Fourth District, Division Three, of the California Court of Appeal has indicated that HOAs do indeed have an affirmative obligation to accept partial payments notwithstanding the concerns referenced above…

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hoa_budget_attorney_financial_association.jpg

For many associations with a December year end, September marks the first opportunity for the board of directors to review the first draft of the budget and disclosures materials. As of January 1, 2014, changes to the Davis-Stirling Act now require that budget documents and disclosures be distributed in the form of the Annual Budget Report and the Annual Policy Statement.

Civil Code §5300 requires the Annual Budget Report (“Report”) be distributed to the membership 30-90 days prior to the fiscal year end. Unless the governing documents provide for more stringent standards, the Report must now include the following documents:
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hoa-web-site.jpg*Asked & Answered

Asked – Is it common for an association to create a website and share certain information via this website with owners/residents of the community? If yes, what are the regulations?

Answered – Yes. A community website can be a valuable and effective communication tool by allowing residents to access homeowner association (“HOA”) information 24 hours a day, seven days a week. While there are no specific regulations regarding HOA websites, there are a few pitfalls that should be avoided when sharing community information in a public forum.

A typical HOA website will provide informational tools to the residents, including access to HOA documents, calendar of events, board meeting agendas, contact information, etc. The board may post most of these items within a public area of the website. However, some items will need to be housed in a secure location. For example, access to the HOA’s CC&R’s, Bylaws, and other governing documents should be restricted to a “Members Only” location of the site, and be protected via a user name and password.

The board may also consider posting disclosure notices, such as the Annual Budget Report, Annual Policy Statement, and other community-wide disclosures on the site. As noted above, these documents should be contained within the “Members Only” section of the website. The HOA would still be required to provide these notices to the membership per the General Delivery requirements outlined in Civil Code § 4045; however, keeping a copy on the website provides the members with a quick and convenient location to obtain additional copies, if necessary.

If the HOA allows its members to review assessment account information, or pay assessments online, the members will need to able to access a secure area of the website in order to protect their private information. To protect the HOA from liability from data breaches, be sure to utilize a payment vendor that is PCI Compliant. PCI Data Security Standards include requirements to maintain a firewall to protect cardholder data, encrypt transmission of cardholder data, use and regularly update anti-virus software, assign a unique ID to each user, and regularly test security systems, among other things.

hoa laws

Some HOA websites also include a chat room/forum for residents. Keeping your website social can help build a sense of community. However, it can also be a place for members to voice their grievances. Before including this feature, the board should work with the HOA’s legal counsel to create a Terms of Use Policy, and determine any disciplinary action for violations of this Policy. Residents will need to agree to the Terms of Use prior to being allowed access to the chat room/forum. In addition, the HOA should have someone available to moderate the site, so inappropriate comments can be immediately removed. Due to the time and cost associated with monitoring an online forum, the board may find it more beneficial to instead have a list of Frequently Asked Questions (“FAQs”), as well as a Contact Form, where residents can have their questions quickly answered. Above all, the HOA needs to ensure that the website’s information is kept up to date and relevant to ensure that residents keep coming back.

Blog post authored by Tinnelly Law Group’s Director of Business Development, Ramona Acosta.

To submit questions to the HOA attorneys at Tinnelly Law Group, click here.

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hoa-assessment-collection-house.jpgIn October of 2012, we blogged about a United States Bankruptcy Court case that addressed the proper interpretation and effect of Civil Code Section 5650 allowing for a HOA to recover delinquent assessments, along with “reasonable costs incurred in collecting the delinquent assessment, including reasonable attorney’s fees.” In sum, the Court ruled that the delinquent homeowner was not liable for the fees and costs imposed by the HOA’s collection company that was operating on a contingency basis. Because the HOA was not responsible to pay the collection company’s fees directly, those fees were not costs “incurred” by the HOA which the HOA was legally entitled to recover from the delinquent homeowner. We then predicted that the case may affect the terms under which collection companies contract with HOAs, especially those companies that operate on a contingency (“no-cost”) basis.

Another case currently being litigated in Northern California is addressing this same issue. Though the case is still pending, a recent order issued by the United States District Court, N.D., California illustrates the how the courts may be trending with regard to the fees and costs imposed by collection companies that contract with HOAs on a contingency basis:

“Although no California appellate court has directly addressed whether, as here, a third-party vendor acting on behalf of a HOA can lawfully charge a delinquent homeowner fees not incurred by the HOA, the aforementioned authorities prompt a conclusion that [the collection company’s] right to impose debt collection fees against [the homeowner] extends no further than the [HOA’s] right to do the same….[the collection company’s] fees apparently are neither incurred nor paid by the HOAs that contract for the company’s ‘no-cost’ services. If California law nonetheless entitled [the collection company] to impose the fees of its choosing against homeowners…the company would wield unchecked power to extract a cascade of fees and costs from a HOA’s delinquent members.” (Emphasis added).

hoa laws

There has been a string of recent court cases illustrating how now, more than ever, HOAs and collection companies are being scrutinized for their collection procedures. HOA Boards and managers should be cognizant of the legal requirements with regard to assessment collection, and how deviations from those requirements may expose the HOA to liability.
Tinnelly Law Group is proud to provide its clients with access to comprehensive, attorney-supervised assessment collection services through the use of its affiliate, Alterra Assessment Recovery.

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hoa-foreclosure-article.jpgBe sure to check out Steve Tinnelly’s latest article he authored for the “OC View,” an educational bi-monthly magazine published by the Orange County Regional Chapter of the Community Associations Institute (CAI).

The article, entitled “Foreclosure Face-Off,” compares and contrasts the two foreclosure processes available to California HOAs in their assessment collection efforts (non-judicial and judicial foreclosure). It discusses the primary advantages and disadvantages associated with each process, and how they may be impacted by economic factors and issues unique to each delinquency. Our firm is privileged to have the opportunity to work with CAI and to contribute to its educational efforts. For more information on CAI, we encourage you to visit its website at caionline.org.

hoa laws

Tinnelly Law Group is proud to provide its clients with access to comprehensive, attorney-supervised assessment collection services through the use of its affiliate, Alterra Assessment Recovery (“Alterra”). Alterra’s service offering includes both foreclosure processes, and an array of ancillary services developed to resolve delinquent matters as quickly and efficiently as possible. For more information on Alterra, visit its website at alterracollections.com.

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hoa update 2014Our “Annual Legislative & Case Law Update” newsletter for the year 2014 is now available in our library!

The Legislative & Case Law Update provides an overview of the new legislation and case law impacting California Homeowners Associations (“HOAs”) as we head into 2014. The new legislation includes, among other items, the re-organization of the Davis-Stirling Act (now in effect), and a bill that clarifies contractor licensing requirements for HOA managers. The new case law includes rulings that may impact HOA election rules, membership rights to attend Board meetings, use of HOA media outlets during election campaigns, insurance defense coverage, attorney’s fees recovery in HOA disputes, and assessment collection procedures.

Click here to read our Annual Legislative & Case Law Update (2014)

Have questions on any of the new legislation or case law? Click here to send us a question online.

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*New Case Lawredemption-rights.jpg

Earlier this year, we blogged about an appellate court case that underscored the necessity for a homeowners association (“HOA”) to strictly comply with the statutory procedures and requirements applicable to assessment collection. That case focused on various requirements pertaining to the transmittal of notices (i.e., assessment lien notices, notices of right to request alternative dispute resolution (“ADR”), notice of the Board’s decision to initiate foreclosure of an assessment lien, etc.) The HOA’s failure to strictly comply with those requirements ultimately resulted in the invalidation of the HOA’s assessment lien and also an award of attorney’s fees and costs to the delinquent homeowner.

The case of Multani v. Witkin & Neal et al., (2013) 216 Cal.App.4th 590, (“Multani“) similarly involved allegations of procedural defects by a HOA’s collection agent. However, the Court’s ruling in Multani is significant in that it addresses the statutory, ninety (90) day “right of redemption” afforded to a homeowner that may have lost ownership of her unit through nonjudicial foreclosure of a delinquent assessment lien…

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