Some Topical Updates on HOA Issues

March 16, 2012

By Curtis G. Kimble.

On our Facebook page, we share information, articles, links, and developments in condo and HOA issues, in addition to our more detailed posts on this blog.  For those of you who don’t subscribe to our Facebook page, I thought I’d pass on some recent links and news we’ve shared recently:

  • Condo Association Settles Lawsuit with Veteran over Service Dog  By Erin Alberty | The Salt Lake Tribune

“A Park City condo association will pay $20,000 to a disabled veteran, ending a legal conflict over whether the man should be forced to pay fees to keep a service dog that helps him cope with depression and anxiety.

The U.S. Justice Department sued the Fox Point at Redstone condo association and its management company in November, alleging that Thomas Burton, a combat veteran of the first Gulf War, was forced to move out of his rented condo because the association would not waive its pet fees and insurance requirements for Burton’s service dog . . .”   Read more here

  • Who Prepares Your Association’s Tax Return?   by Lisa Magill, Florida Condo and HOA Law Blog

“A Las Vegas HOA is currently fighting with the IRS over the question of whether $2 million held in the HOA’s savings account is subject to income tax at the rate of 30%.

Associations are generally organized as not-for-profit corporations (some older associations are not incorporated) and therefore must file tax returns like other not-for-profit corporations. Associations are not entitled to tax exempt status like charitable organizations. To be tax-exempt under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, an organization must be organized and operated exclusively for exempt purposes set forth in the Code. To be tax exempt under IRC 501(c)(4), a homeowners’ association must operate for the benefit of the general public, i.e., it must provide a community benefit – not a benefit to the owners or residents . . .”  Read more here

  • Although written in Virginia, the same principles apply in Utah:  Is It Time for Your Community Association to Audit Its Governing Documents?  By Susan Bradford Tarley.

“Many communities were established 20-40 years ago with governing documents that worked well for the developer, and for the most part the community association. However, many of these governing documents are outdated. Virginia and federal laws pertaining to community associations have changed substantially. If your board of directors has not engaged in an audit of your communities governing documents in the past 5-7 years, it should.

When should documents be amended?  Although there are many reasons for amending documents, these 7 reasons are the most common: . . .”   Read more here

If you would like to see more information, links and updates on condo and HOA issues in addition to the posts on this blog, be sure to like us on Facebook and you’ll see our Facebook posts in your Facebook feed.  A direct link is on the right of this page, or our page can be found here Richards, Kimble & Winn on Facebook

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The Results Are In: The 2012 Utah Legislative Session

March 8, 2012

By Curtis G. Kimble.

The 2012 general session of the Utah Legislature ends tonight at midnight and only one small change to a current law and no new laws affecting condominiums and homeowners associations were passed this year.  This is probably welcome news to the many boards and management committees that were likely more than a little overwhelmed by last year’s many changes.

The only change this year is to the law regarding reserve studies.  A board is required to conduct a reserve study every five years and to review and update it every two years.  But, when S.B. 56 goes into effect on May 8 of this year (assuming it’s signed by the Governor), a board will only have to conduct a reserve study every six years and review and update it every three years.  While industry professionals generally agree that a reserve study should be updated more frequently than that, even annually, and many states require an annual review and update of a reserve study, this change to the law will take some pressure off boards.

No other new laws or changes affecting condos and HOAs will go into effect this year.  Next year, expect to see more significant changes proposed that haven’t been seen yet.  I have a feeling we can also expect to see that Ombudsman bill (H.B. 56) that I explained here proposed yet again.


Reserves: An Option, a Tool or a Necessity?

August 31, 2011

Any good leader of a major corporation (which most HOAs are) knows to utilize and rely on the input of professionals.  To that end, I recently came across some comments regarding reserves from different HOA industry professionals that I didn’t really expect to hear, so I wanted to share them.

The first wasn’t unexpected, but made some good points (be sure to check out the full article):

From an article by an HOA reserve specialist:

“We are in a situation where too many well-intentioned board members and managers are feeling pressure to have a strong reserve fund (more than 70 percent funded) or low reserve contributions at their associations. They want the association to look good to buyers and lenders. But at what cost?

“Reserve planning is based on estimating future costs and repairs. It’s natural to feel optimistic about the future, but board members and managers shouldn’t hide the facts. If you think “a new roof surely won’t cost that much” or “the paint will easily last another five years,” too much optimism can come back to bite you when there isn’t enough money in the reserve fund to cover expenses.

“A community association’s reserve balance doesn’t care about the board’s good intentions, and the building’s components don’t care about the board’s optimism. The reserve balance is what it is, and components will fail whether you have the money saved or not. Facilities are surprisingly expensive to maintain.”

From HOA insurance and risk management specialist, Joel Meskin, Esq., CIRMS:

“Having insured over 75,000 community associations nationwide, I have taken the position that a properly done and funded reserve study is one of the best and most effective risk management tools available to community associations. By having an effective reserve study, many claims that we see daily would never be made against associations.”

And finally, from a post by HOA lending specialist Alan Seilhammer:

“A community association must always first keep in mind that the correct step to take in paying for capital maintenance improvements is to build adequate reserves based on a professionally prepared reserve study that is updated periodically. If the association has not taken that basic step, what is left are only painful and more costly options:  special assessments and long term financing. I have yet to hear a valid argument as to why building a proper level of reserves over time is not the least cost option or the fairest option spread across all unit owners that enjoy use of the building common elements for varying periods of time.

“Needless to say, building appropriate levels of reserves has been the exception versus the rule. Enter the financiers. A very important lesson to appreciate in obtaining a loan for a capital maintenance project is that the loan is not to fund the project. The loan is in reality replacing the lack of reserves that should have been in place so the association could self fund the project.”

A healthy reserve fund doesn’t just help the value of homes and their ability to be bought and sold, it’s an important risk management tool. Nor are reserves an option or alternative to a special assessment or a bank loan.  As a lender very frankly and non self-servingly stated, a loan (or a special assessment) really just replaces the lack of reserves that should have been there in the first place.

Curtis G. Kimble

 


When the Taxman Cometh, Will You be Prepared?

August 5, 2011

Today, a couple of great presenters spoke to those of us at the HOA Luncheon which is put on by the Utah Chapter of Community Associations Institute each month at the Cottonwood Country Club (these are not exclusive events, all are invited).  Chuck Balacy of Mutual of Omaha Bank / Community Association Banc, and TD Croshaw of Huber, Erickson & Bowman (HEB) presented some good information.  Chuck talked about reserve investment options, maximizing interest rates and HOA loans.  TD talked about HOA tax filing options and options to lower HOA taxes.

The high points were:

Reserve Investment Options and HOA Loans:  1.  Bank loans are a good option for obtaining funding for an association in certain circumstances and the bank doesn’t even lien the property; the bank’s security is the future assessment payments received from the owners.  2.  However, always use a bank specializing in HOA loans, as it is a unique area of lending.  3.  A good bank with an HOA focus will have a representative (such as Chuck Balacy) come out to a board meeting and discuss investment and banking options at no charge so the board can maximize the return on their investment of reserves with the absolute minimum of risk (we’re not talking about investing in technology company IPOs or even the stock market in general).

Taxes:  1.  HOAs can choose to file under either Section 528 or Section 277 of the tax code, with potentially very different ramifications.

2.  Section 528 was set up specifically for HOAs and Form 1120H is a simple one page form and all income is taxed at a flat 32%.  The HOA must meet the 60% exempt function revenue test, the 90% exempt function expense test, and 85% of the sq footage of all the units must be for residential use.   Taxable income is calculated from “nonexempt function income.”  All “exempt function income” is non-taxable. Under 528, HOAs are not entitled to net operating loss deductions and there is a possibility of more income being taxed compared to electing 277.

3.  Under Section 277, the HOA is taxed like a regular corporation and Form 1120 is more complex and has a tiered tax rate.  Additionally, compliance risks are much higher.  Risks include reserves being taxed, excess member income being taxed, and prepaids are income in the year paid and therefore contribute to the excess member income.  Taxable income is calculated from nonmember income, all member income is considered non-taxable.

4.  Neither method is a “one size fits all” and the best option may change from year to year.  A good HOA specialist tax accountant, like HEB, will compute the taxable income under both options and consider the risks versus the value of filing under each option to ensure the HOA pays the least amount of taxes while avoiding the risk of audit, penalties and back taxes.

5.  Are HOAs audited by the IRS?  Yes.  I don’t have any official figures, but TD Croshaw of HEB has personally seen three HOA audits recently.

(This is not an advertisement or endorsement for HEB or Mutual of Omaha Bank, my only intent is to provide simple, straightforward value to HOA boards, and that includes pointing out specialists in given areas from time to time without bias).

Curtis G. Kimble


A Follow Up on Fidelity

August 2, 2011

As a quick follow up to my post on June 28, 2011, regarding embezzlement and fidelity insurance, this complaint underscores the importance of fidelity coverage even more.  Even if you never have an issue with misuse of funds or embezzlement, a lack of fidelity coverage could affect the ability of owners to buy and sell units within your association.

FHA, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac all require that condominium associations carry some level of fidelity insurance, even if the association has professional management which handles the day to day aspects of collecting assessments.   Even a conventional loan with 20% down is likely to be sold by an initial lender on the secondary lending market and thus the loan must meet Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac standards.

While Wells Fargo didn’t exhibit best practices in the situation described in the link above, it’s always the best practice for an HOA to carry fidelity insurance coverage.

Curtis G. Kimble


Embezzlement in an HOA?

June 28, 2011

If there’s one thing you do as a board member (and I mean if it’s literally the only thing you do as a board member because you’re too busy to be involved, or because the president or the property manager does everything), you need to make sure there is current fidelity insurance coverage for the association (protecting against loss of money from  dishonesty, embezzlement, forgery, etc.).

Recently, I’ve had involvement with an association where two of the three board members were simply not involved at all in the operation of the association and the third board member embezzled funds, failed to pay bills, and let the insurance lapse.  Finally, one of the lawsuits that had started to come in because of unpaid bills got served on one of the other board members and that clued him into the fact that something was amiss.   Of course, the embezzling board member had let the insurance coverage lapse long ago so there was no coverage and the association had to levy a large special assessment just to pay the outstanding bills.

Embezzlement, forgery, and other similar things may sound like exotic, foreign things that only happen in big corporations or in the movies, but it happens wherever you are and in HOAs of all sizes.  The HOA I mentioned above had less than 20 members.  No one is immune.  Besides the situation above involving a board member, I’ve had experience with an HOA where an employee of the property management company siphoned HOA funds for his personal use.

Even if you are actively and directly involved as a board member and you even look at monthly bank statements for your HOA, make sure they are the original bank statements, not something generated by a personal computer.  In the HOA in this story:  Police say woman stole from condo group, the treasurer used a computer to generate statements that made it appear that she was spending money on maintenance work that was never done. 

Curtis G. Kimble 


How the New Laws Affect You: Non-Condos

June 2, 2011

For non-condo HOAs (all HOAs except condominiums), here’s a summary of how the new Utah HOA laws that went into effect on May 10, 2011, affect you most, as well as some recommended “action items.”  Contact us for help with any action item.  Also, see the other posts on this blog for more detail on the new laws.  This blog does not contain a comprehensive list of the new laws, just those that affect your daily operations the most.

1.  Register or No Lien.  Register as an HOA (separate and apart from registering as a nonprofit corporation) with the State of Utah and keep it updated when directors change, or else you can’t enforce any liens against delinquent owners.  *Action item:  subscribe to this blog (on the right side of this page under “Email Subscription”) and we’ll post the info on how to register as soon as we know about it.

2.  Insurance.  All HOAs in Utah must have property and liability insurance coverage for their common areas (this was not required before in non-condominium HOAs).

Unless the CC&Rs require each homeowner to insure the homeowner’s dwelling, all HOAs with attached housing (such as townhomes) are required to have 100% replacement cost coverage for all permanent improvements, including fixtures and betterments to an attached dwelling made by a homeowner.  The association must set aside an amount equal to the amount of the deductible (or $10,000, whichever is less).  The master policy must be primary, even for unit related losses.   However, the law gives the HOA a method to allocate or transfer risk to the homeowner or homeowner’s policy.  For claims against the association’s master policy which are associated with a particular home, the association can require that homeowner to pay the deductible if a notice had already been sent to all homeowners stating they will be responsible for the deductible on the association’s master policy.  *Action item: send notice to all owners regarding payment of the deductible, and make sure your deductible is somewhere in the $2,500 to $10,000 range to reduce minor or frivolous claims against the master policy by homeowners that drive up the premiums.

3.  Rules.  As of May 10th, rules can no longer be changed or adopted without giving notice to all homeowners 15 days in advance of the board meeting where the rule change will be considered and allowing homeowners an opportunity to be heard at that meeting.  The new or changed rule must then be sent out to all homeowners within 15 days of being adopted.  The homeowners can call a special meeting and disapprove a new rule within 60 days from the date it was adopted, if 51% of the total votes in the association vote to disapprove at the special meeting.

4.  Payoff Info.  An association is now prohibited from charging a fee for providing payoff information needed for closing on a unit, unless the fee is authorized by the CC&Rs, bylaws or rules, and, no matter what, the fee can’t exceed $50.  Payoff information must be provided by the HOA within five business days from when a closing agent makes a proper request for it (has to be in writing, signed and dated by the owner, etc.), or the lien is not enforceable at closing.

When a unit owner is closing on a unit and the owner needs payoff information because he or she has not been paying their share of the common expenses, providing that payoff information is an administrative burden on the HOA that is appropriately paid for by the offending/delinquent owner, not by the other paying owners.   *Action item:  adopt a rule authorizing a fee for providing payoff information.

5.  Reserves.  Every five years, a homeowner-elected board must perform, or hire someone to perform, a reserve analysis by (1) determining which improvements have a useful life of 3 years or more, then (2) determining what the cost is for maintaining those improvements over the next several years, and (3) then determining what they think the appropriate amount of the reserve fund should be.

The reserve analysis has to be reviewed and, if needed, updated every two years.  The reserve analysis has to be presented to the homeowners at the annual meeting each year where the homeowners at the meeting vote on whether to fund a reserve account and, if so, how to fund it and in what amount.  The results of that vote have to be reflected in the minutes.

The money in the reserve fund has to be kept separate from other funds and may not be used for daily maintenance expenses, unless approved by the owners, or for any other purpose other than the purpose for which the reserve fund was established.  *Action Item: for those who haven’t conducted a reserve analysis since March 1, 2008,  the law requires you to do one by July 1, 2012.

6.  Budgets.  A new law requires a homeowner-elected board to adopt a budget annually and to then present that budget to the homeowners at a meeting.  Since the budget will have already been adopted by the board, there is no requirement that the homeowners vote to approve the budget at the meeting.   The homeowners can, however, call a special meeting within 45 days of the first meeting and vote to disapprove the budget.  The budget will be disapproved if 51% of the total votes in the association vote to disapprove it “at a special meeting specifically called for that purpose by the lot owners.”

7.  Electronic Notice.  A new law states that you can provide notice to homeowners solely by electronic means (e.g., email, website) if authorized by your CC&Rs, bylaws, or rules (unless a homeowner opts out in writing).  *Action Item: adopt a rule authorizing electronic notice instead of notice by mail, at least for certain things.

Curtis G. Kimble


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