Pay the Bill Even If It Was Lost in the Mail

Hickenbottom is a past president of the Greater Los Angeles chapter of the Community Associations Institute (CAI), a national nonprofit research and educational organization

QUESTION: I am having an ongoing argument with the management company that sends out the billing statements to the owners for our homeowners association's monthly assessment. I did not get a bill for May, so I didn't send in a payment. When the June bill arrived, it showed that a late charge has been added to my account.

I don't think that the management company or the association can add a late charge if they didn't send me a bill. What can I do?

ANSWER: Pay the bill, including the late charge. The payment of your assessment is mandatory. You should consider the association fee to be much like a mortgage payment or your property tax assessment. The billing statement is just a reminder. The bill could have been lost in the mail or it wasn't even mailed through some error, but that doesn't relieve you of your responsibility to pay.

Law on Balconies Appears Ambiguous

Q: In a recent column you stated that the unit owner was responsible for maintaining his or her balcony if the balcony was designated as "exclusive use common area." Our board has stated that the association will not pay for major repairs to my balcony. I contend that major repairs are the responsibility of the association. Who is right?

A: The headline of the column that you are referring to was a bit misleading. It said, "Unit Owner Must Pay to Repair Balcony." California law says that unless the governing documents state otherwise, what the owner must maintain is ambiguous and the law needs to be changed in order to clarify its meaning, in my opinion.

I believe that it is the owner's responsibility to keep the balcony clean and possibly to perform minor repairs. However, major repairs should be performed and paid for by the association for several reasons. The structure of the building is owned by the association.

It is not reasonable to expect the owner to pay for major repair or replacement of the exterior of the building. Even painting, which could be considered maintenance, should be done at the expense of the association. If this is left up to each owner, paint colors will not be consistent and the building could eventually look very strange with different paint variations.

I suggest that all associations refer this question regarding maintenance, repair and replacement of "exclusive use common area" to an attorney who is familiar with condominium law.

Posting of Delinquent Owner Names Unwise

Q: One of the board members in our homeowners association said that she had read in your column that your recommend posting the names of "deadbeat" owners in the common area of the property. Is this an effective way of collecting from owners who are continually late in paying their month assessment to the association?

A: No, I definitely do not recommend posting the names of late payers in the common area or printing this information in the association's newsletter.

This kind of peer pressure may be effective in collecting late dues at your country club or social organization, but community associations have more effective means of collecting delinquent assessments rather than using public embarrassing.

Though all owners are entitled to review the association's accounting records, the association should not blatantly announce to the general public that an owner is delinquent in his or her payments. Occasionally, accounting errors occur which would be very embarrassing for the owner and the association if the publicized information were incorrect.

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