Benefits and Responsibilities
Shared community living (often called “common interest communities”) is the most popular and fastest growing form of new home construction in the country. Hundreds of thousands of communities exist across America and tens of millions of people live together in these home owner associations, condominiums, and cooperatives. You might think that most people and the legal system would understand the basic principles of shared community living, wouldn’t you? You’d be mistaken.
What is that basic principle of shared community living? Simply this: when you share common elements with your neighbors you get to enjoy the benefits they provide but have to pay the cost of operation. Wow, that’s pretty straight forward. How can that be misunderstood?
When you buy a unit in a shared community, you get a thick packet of information which includes the governing documents—all of which make clear, if you bother to read them, that you have a responsibility to pay your monthly dues no matter what problems or disagreements you have with the Association of owners or its Executive Board.
This fact not withstanding, there are some owners in communities who believe they don’t have to pay their monthly dues if they have some grievance (real or imagined), or some dispute (meritorious or not) with the community board. They seem to think that they are renters who are withholding rent from a landlord in a escrow account and that they are not harming the other community members by doing so.
Some of these disputes escalate to proportions that become financially staggering. There are legal cases that stretch out for years, and generate thousands, even tens of thousands of dollars of legal fees for the Association to defend its rights and recover the money which state law says they are entitled. This is what the state law, your governing documents, the court cases, and the appeal court decisions all agree.
On paper, every aspect of the law says the Association owners must pay their monthly dues because they enjoy the benefits which those dues pay—the insurance, electricity, lawn mowing, snow removal, the staff salaries, etc., etc., etc. And because those monthly expenses MUST be paid on time each month, when any owner refuses to pay their share, the other owners are FORCED to pay that extra share themselves.
Well, here’s the rub: paper isn’t dollars. The legal papers say the Association should have that money each month to pay the bills. The reality is that no dollars are in the bank account to pay them. The legal paper says you can get your money by following the collection process. Have you ever actually experienced the collection process? How long did it take you before you were holding real dollars in your hands? And, by the way, did you ever collect 100 cents on your dollar?
Reality is that you will have to aggressive fight for months (sometimes even years), jump through multiple legal hoops, spend thousands of dollars in legal fees, sheriff sale costs, and other charges before you ever see a single dollar. And, each month that passes, the other owners have to pay those bills the services of which the delinquent owner is enjoying without paying for.
In short, what’s the problem here—and it is a fundamental flaw in the reality of community living and the legal process—it’s that the benefits and responsibilities of community living are separate and distinct in the law, but one and the same in reality. You shouldn’t be allowed to enjoy the benefits of all those common services which community living provides without honoring your responsibility to pay for them each month.
There is a simple fix to this problem. Next month we will discuss how to make our communities fair for EVERYONE who lives in them.