Covering Costs During COVID -19: Collecting Assessments When Money Worries are High
and Available Funds are Low
Business as usual has taken on a new meaning when it comes to collecting assessments during the COVID-19 crisis. The sudden, swift cascade effect of massive job loss, income loss, and ultimately assessment loss puts community associations and community managers in an unparalleled situation.
Fortunately, the Community Association Institute (CAI) has issued several communications regarding best practices during this especially difficult time, beginning with the statement of moratorium on foreclosures released in March by the CAI Board of Trustees. Highlights of the statement include the following set of principles for community associations to adopt regarding homeowners who are having difficulty paying their assessments:
If an owner is unable to pay assessments on time, the owner should notify their community association to work out a payment plan. Homeowners with a financial hardship should be encouraged to apply for government assistance, if available.
Community associations should adopt a moratorium on foreclosures for a period of 60 days (or until at least June 1, 2020).
Community associations should waive late fees and penalties for owners who face temporary financial hardships due to COVID-19.
Community associations should amend, temporarily relax, or follow existing non-foreclosure collection policies that are fair and applied equally to all members of the community association.
Community associations should continue to record liens to protect their interests.
Community associations should emphasize the importance of owners paying their assessments on time, if possible.
Handling Hard-Hitting Questions and Delinquent Accounts with Delicate Diligence
With assessments being vital to performing essential services and paying bills, collecting the funds is obviously imperative. Some bills may even increase due to the virus, such as cleaning services. But with some amenities, such as the pool and clubhouse, not currently available for use because of virus concerns, residents may question why the assessment costs remain the same.
Educating residents on how their assessment dollars are spent is especially critical now. While they may not currently be able to use the pool, ongoing maintenance is still necessary to protect the investment, as with the clubhouse. Other areas that may be subjected to controversy is landscaping, which also remains necessary to maintain the property image and values.
To help offset temporary money loss, one industry expert recommends community managers taking a close look at their association’s budget to see if there are areas where they can cut costs. Special assessments should be postponed unless they are for an emergency repair.
It’s also recommended to continue planned projects that have been budgeted in the reserve funds as long as social distancing is practiced by the contractors. With less people in common areas that may be in need of maintenance and repair, the work may be performed more efficiently.
In working with residents who are delinquent on assessments, industry legal experts stress compassionate leniency, but recommend associations require a written statement from residents that includes the last place of employment and why they are asking for lenience. It’s also suggested that boards place a lien on delinquent properties to protect the association’s interests, but suspend all foreclosure activity, reasoning that once people return to work, a payment plan can be implemented with delinquent owners.
Better Understanding Your Legal Leeway
Community managers are encouraged to become familiar with several laws that have been enacted addressing how COVID-19 has impacted homeowners, such as:
National Mortgage Forbearance
National Mortgage Foreclosure Moratorium
National Moratorium on Evictions
If you have additional questions on the legal aspects of collecting assessments during COVID-19, HL Law Group can help. Contact us by phone at (855) 713-1212 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We look forward to hearing from you.