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

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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 


Register Now for Our Seminar on New HOA Laws

June 8, 2011

What is it?  Major changes were made this year to the laws that affect all community associations (HOAs).  We have had numerous requests to present this information to our clients and to property managers in a concise yet detailed manner. We will be providing an informative and educational 2 hour seminar that you must not miss in order to make sure that your actions as a board member comply with Utah law.

When?  Saturday, June 18, 2011, starting promptly at 9:00 am until 11:00 am.

Where?  Our Salt Lake office, 2040 E. Murray Holladay Rd, Suite 106, Holladay, UT 84117 (about 4800 south, just behind the Holladay Bank and Trust). Phone: 801-274-6800.

Cost?  No charge as part of our educational commitment to our clientele.

RSVP Required?  Yes.  Seating is limited to the first 50 people that RSVP.  We kindly ask that no more than 2 people per association attend in order to ensure seating for everyone.  Please RSVP by June 16, 2011, by calling 801-274-6800 or by submitting the following form:


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


Assistance and Service Animal Update

May 6, 2011

To my displeasure, I have found that more and more frequently, a common “counterclaim” to an Association’s enforcement actions (regardless of what the Association is enforcing) is an allegation that the Board has violated the Fair Housing Act (“FHA”).  This blog entry deals with Assistance and Service Animals and recent meetings I have had personally with the Utah Anti-Discrimination and Labor Division on the topic (the “UALD”).

 Please remember, that each case is fact specific and this blog entry is for general information only and should only serve as to alert you as to issues to consider.

 People with disabilities are afforded certain federal and state housing privileges to help them cope and deal with their disabilities.  I think we all can agree that this is a fair, moral and good legal concept.  One of the accommodations that MUST be made is a reasonable accommodation for a service or companion animals, but only if strict conditions and requirements are met.  Owners do not have a unfettered right to have an assistance or service animal.

 First and foremost, “service animals” will not be the topic of the Article.  I do not think anyone would disagree that a visually or hearing impaired individual should not have access to a service animal to help them overcome and live better with their challenges.

 However, the issue becomes much more complicated when a request from an owner is made for an “assistance animal” based on a medical condition that may not be as apparent.  This issues often arises in ‘no pet’ communities.

 If you take anything from this Article it should be that a properly permitted assistance animal is NOT deemed a pet in the eyes of the law.  A rough analogy would be such an animal is just as crucial as a wheelchair.  Thus, your pet policies do not apply.

 I am sure you are wondering what entitles someone to have an “assistance animal” in the first place.  First, they must have a disability which limits a major life function.  This can, and in some cases should, be question.  But be careful as to how you go about finding this out.  As described below, it is a health care provider’s job to make this determination – not the Board’s.  Second, a licensed health care provider must provide a “link” between the disability and the animal that is being requested as an assistance animal.

 Most Associations require their members to have their doctor fill out a form that evidences both a disability and certifies that the animal will be of a therapeutic and helpful nature.  To be very concise, if the health care provider certifies this to be true, then the Association really does not have grounds to question the certification.

 If the Association is presented with the doctor’s note; a prescription form; etc; you do have the right to follow up with the issuing health care provider to make sure it came from them and is legitimate but that is about as far as you are allowed to inquire.

 You have no right to inquire about the nature of the disability and your forms and/or questions should not go down that path.

 You are likely asking yourself “what does John mean by a health care provider?”  A physician’s assistant and nurse, etc., will likely qualify as such.  I have tried to argue in the past that the doctor or health care provider must have some training with respect to whatever type of a disability is being alleged.

 For example, I have personally not agreed with an “ear, nose and throat” doctor giving a prescription for an assistance animal for an emotional condition.  However, I have been told (and we will update this blog as more information develops) that it is the doctor or health care provider who puts their name on the line if they certify something that they cannot diagnose properly.

 Therefore, you are allowed verify that the “note” came from a certain person and that this person is a trained health care professional.  But, in most instances, your scrutiny will stop there.  (There will always be exceptions and issues on this topic – but for now – please use this information as your default mindset.  Another question arises – can a chiropractor prescribe an assistance animal?  More to come).

If you make a request upon your owners for a health care provider’s certification, and you do not get it back within a reasonable time, you do not need to make the accommodation until such note is received.

 If someone wants or has “2” cats, the health care provider must prove a need for 2 cats.

 Further, just because an owner had approval for a prior pet, does not mean that that approval extends to the “next pet.”  For example, if a pet dies or is lost, the owner must make a request again.  Remember, this analysis is all about the current pet being the appropriate pet for the particular challenge of the owner.

 You can ask for a medical opinion about the breed or type of animal and whether or not it truly provides a medical benefit over other breeds or types of animals.  However, be careful.  If someone has a “scary dog” that simply does not mean it cannot be an assistance animal. The key consideration is not the breed, but whether it (1) stays under control; (2) stays on a leash; (3) does not physically attack or threaten other owners; (4) does not unreasonably bark or make noise or (5) cause damage to the common areas, etc., that you cannot reasonably remedy.

 Unless a City Ordinance disallows a certain type of breed of dog or other animal you probably cannot challenge the breed unless it shows violent tendencies or is inherently dangerous. In such cases, I believe the Anti-Discrimination Division will defer to the City and PERHAPS allow you to ban that particular type of animal.

 Questions arise about exotic pets – snakes, etc.  This will be discussed in a follow up entry.

Remember, the accommodation that you must give is not unlimited – the owner must be given a reasonable accommodation.  Not all requests will be reasonable.

If you start on a path of enforcing a pet policy, make sure that it is uniform and consistent amongst all owners with the above considerations for assistance animals.  You should accept both verbal and written complaints from other owners who complain about pets in the community and then do your due diligence to make sure the pet is properly in the community pursuant to the law discussed above and your policies.  Please keep a file on each approved assistance animal.

This topic is a complicated one and this blog entry cannot do it full justice.  Please contact us before engaging in any pet enforcement program or if you simply have assistance and service animal related questions.  As stated above, more to come on pets AND Fair Housing Rules related to swimming pools; weight rooms; etc.

Best regards, John Richards


Important Follow Up – Electronic Notice Law

May 4, 2011

As a quick follow up to my post below, I want to point out that another law goes into effect on May 10 allowing both condo and non-condo HOAs to stop mailing out notices to homeowners and to instead provide notice by electronic means, such as by email or by posting on the association’s website (or even by text message), if it’s authorized by the CC&Rs, bylaws or rules, and if, considering all the circumstances, the notice is fair and reasonable.  The new law will be in the Condo Act at § 57-8-42, and in the Community Association Act at § 57-8a-214.

The reason I’m mentioning this as a follow up to my post below is that, because of the new requirements for adopting new rules in non-condo HOAs which I explain below and that go into effect on May 10, a board may want to quickly meet (or take action by written consent without a meeting) before then and adopt a rule authorizing notice by electronic means.  Even if it’s too late for that, every board should definitely consider this important tool, at the very least for certain types of notice.

Curtis G. Kimble


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