Question: Like so many condominium associations, the number of owners who are delinquent in paying association fees has increased. Our board is faced with paying the bills but the assessments aren't coming in to make that easy. Two members of our board have said that they are "fed up" and going to embarrass the deadbeats into paying. They have talked about posting the names of those who are delinquent in the community newsletter, on the bulletin board and on the web site. Does this work for other associations?
Answer: These are indeed challenging times for many associations. Some owners have lost their jobs, become ill or are in financial difficulty for some other reason beyond their control. A few owners are taking advantage of the situation and are "walking away" because they are "upside down" in the value of the property compared to the mortgage, and the condo is only a vacation home. So, they have stopped paying assessments even though they have the cash to pay.
Posting information regarding those who are allegedly delinquent to the association in the payment of assessments, especially in three places, can be a dangerous practice. Among other things, the Florida Consumer Protection Practices Act, found at (Florida Statute Section 559.55) prohibits the collection of debts through means designed to embarrass a debtor, including the posting of "deadbeat lists" and the disclosure of debts to third persons when there is no legitimate business need for the information.
Those who are delinquent because of uncontrollable circumstances will be embarrassed but most likely still not be able to pay. Those who are delinquent on a second home are likely not in the area anyway, so their embarrassment is minimal.
There is a better way to speed collections. Establish and implement collection procedures that terminate in the foreclosure process. There is no question that this process does improve collections for other associations and taking the required legal steps will result in the eventual collection of the fees. In some instances, units have been transferred to the ownership of the association.
It is best to review this process with an attorney.
Attorney Sylvia Heldreth is a certified specialist in real estate law. Her office is located at 1215 Miramar St., in Cape Coral.
This article is not intended as specific legal advice to anyone and is based upon facts that change from time to time. Individuals should seek legal counsel before acting upon any matter involving the law.