Q&A: Maintenance Fee Fiasco Maintenance Fee Fiasco

Q I live in a development that was built in 1983. The developers turned the property over in 1989 to become a homeowners association (HOA). Since then, the association has maintained the building exterior and fences. When the real estate market crashed in 2008, foreclosures in our development increased dramatically, putting us in financial distress. Repairs of the buildings were put on hold. Four years ago, we had a complete change of the Board of Directors and the new board frivolously spent our maintenance monies and reserves, leaving us financially desolate as a community.

At the end of 2013, we hired a new management company, and, after they reviewed our docs, they advised the board that they felt the homeowners are to be responsible for repairing the exterior of the buildings and maintaining the fences. This opinion was also solicited and given by the association's legal counsel in a letter of opinion/interpretation. In the meantime our maintenance fees have gone from $150.00 per month in 2010 to $315.00 per month, where they now stand. My question is this: after 25 years of the association maintaining the exterior of the building as well as the fences, is it legal to now place that burden on the homeowners? The same law firm supporting the association in enforcing that no homeowner make any changes or repairs to their buildings in the past 25 years is now supporting the opinion that the homeowner should now be responsible for repairs. The responsibility to repair damages that have existed for years and have become severe is now placed on the homeowner.

Is any of this legal or fair?

—Don’t Fence Me In

A “Based on the basic information I was provided, it is my opinion that the association may change course and require owners to maintain the exterior of their home even though the association undertook this task for many years,” says Attorney Leonard Wilder of the law firm of Bakalar & Associates, P.A. in Coral Springs.

“Just because the association was doing it wrong for so many years does not mean they cannot correct the situation going forward. Though this may seem unfair, the covenants will ultimately determine what responsibilities the association has for the exterior maintenance. A board does not have the power to change those responsibilities,” Wilder says.    

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