By Curtis G. Kimble.
Our law firm helps many HOA boards and managers collect past-due assessments (dues) from members. Collecting on delinquencies is not easy work in any event, but it can inadvertently be made even more difficult than necessary by a manager or board. Here are 5 ways to help ensure delinquencies can be collected in a timely manner.
1. Have a collection policy in place and let your owners know about it. A collection policy should explain due dates, when late charges are incurred, the interest rate on late amounts, returned check charges, and what actions will be taken on delinquent accounts and when. At the same time, a collection policy should be somewhat flexible, rather than taking a hardline approach requiring a series of actions taken at set-in-stone dates. Seek the advice of the association’s attorney because many laws and the association’s governing documents must be taken into consideration. Finally, follow all the steps in the policy.
2. Ensure the names and addresses of owners are accurate and up to date. Sure, it’s generally the job of the owner to ensure the association has an accurate mailing address. But, a board can avoid some headache by doing what they can to ensure accurate contact information. Try to ensure actual contact with an owner is made before sending their account to collection. Be aware of returned mail and vacant properties. The primary complaints we see from owners are, “I’ve never heard anything from the association” and “if they had just knocked on my door and talked to me about it.”
It’s not a volunteer board member’s job to go knocking on doors to collect money, rather, it’s the individual owner’s duty to make sure their debts are paid. Additionally, casual collection procedures that embarrass owners should be avoided. But, communication is key, and communication can’t occur without accurate owner information.
3. Implement effective procedures that will identify accounting errors. Every HOA must use good, basic accounting practices. I’m not saying every small association must strictly use GAAP (Generally Accepted Accounting Principles), which is a codification of how CPA firms and large corporations prepare and present their business income and expense, assets and liabilities on their financial statements. But using a homemade accounting system on a spreadsheet or hand-written ledger can be a recipe for a mess and can significantly delay proper collection remedies.
Ideally, use bookkeeping software that will give you reasonable reports of every individual property account with a history of charges, payments, and a running balance. Make notes that identify payments by check numbers and sender’s identity. Identify charges to the individual’s account by item or purpose. Be able to provide an accounting that will clarify the what and why of an individual’s balance at any given time. When switching accounting systems or switching property managers, make sure to have a means or require a means of providing the history for any balance forward carried into the new system.
4. Take action when assessments remain unpaid. The association has rights that should be preserved early on with a delinquent account. Follow the association’s collection policy. Ensure letters are sent to the owner, a lien is filed against the property, and additional remedies are being pursued, as appropriate. The more time passes, the harder it will be to collect.
5. Take collection action uniformly and consistently with all owners who are delinquent. Do not let personality conflicts or personal relationships factor into the actions taken on a delinquent account. Treat all owners equally and fairly.
Associations that consistently follow good and effective practices, such as the ones listed above, have more success obtaining the cooperation of the owners and collecting delinquent assessments without having to resort to extreme legal measures. Contact us if you’d like assistance implementing any of these practices or to help your association collect on delinquencies.