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Condo and Homeowner Associations in Trouble

Tuesday, April 21, 2009 posted by Tommi Crow

Foreclosures and loan delinquency’s wreck havoc on the budgets of Homeowner’s Associations (HOA’s) across the country. 

Many condominium communities are glutted with nonpaying units that swamp their operating budgets, force cutbacks on promised services and increase monthly dues for owners who are paying their mortgage and association dues.

Crisis In Florida:

In Florida, the land of the condo dweller, things are spinning out of control for HOA’s and property owners.  As a result, Florida constituents are turning to legislators for an help they can provide.

Under the current system in Florida and other states, lenders can avoid paying homeowner’s fee’s until they foreclose and become the owner of the unit.   Lenders face a continuing avalanche of foreclosures and loan defaults, which means that up to 2 or more years can pass before the property transfer gets through the court system.  

During the lengthy legal process, homeowners often continue living in the units, using the ammenities and facilities for free.  Some even rent the units for income, after they have stopped making payments on the property.  Many associations are forced to cover the costs of water, cable, laundry, lawn and pool maintenance and garbage collection for paying and non-paying owner’s alike.  To make up for the added expenses, paying unit owner’s have to foot the bill or the entire association goes down.   

And, things get even more complicated.  Some banks stall on taking title to units because they have a cap that limits the amount of past-due fee’s they have to repay to 6 months or 1 percent of the original loan amount.   Some luxury condo associations report that some units have as much as $50,000 in unpaid fee’s by the time the bank takes ownership.

Downward Spiral:

Lenders are also denying financing for financially unstable buildings, which essentially means the property can not be sold, even if a buyer is found.  In January, mortgage giant Fannie Mae said it would no longer fund loans in buildings if more than 15 percent of the units were 30 or more days past due with their association fee’s.  

The problem has reached a crisis point for many HOA’s that are struggling to cover basic utilites such as water and electricity.   If they raise fee’s on paying owners for the shortfalls, they risk pushing even more residents into delinquency.  Most owners are already upside down on the property and they simply can not afford a higher payment.

Renting out units could offset loses, but rentals are usually prohibited or they are limited to a very small percentage of the number of units in the complex.  Furthermore, lenders such as Fannie Mae also deny funding for buildings that are less than 51 percent owner occupied.   So, raising money with rent income does not appear to be a viable solution, nor does it maintain the quality of life for the paying residents.

The housing crisis has uncovered many problems that we have never encountered before, but the number of failing HOA’s is an imminent crisis.   Unfortunately, it isn’t simple and if solving it isn’t done correctly, more permanent damage may occur.

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