Ask The HOA Expert: Special AssessmentsWritten By: Richard Thompson
Question: At our annual meeting, the board advised that the monthly condo fee was increasing by 30. Some argued that some services could be discontinued and that they would rather pay a special assessment to do a renovation project next year. Whats the answer?
Answer: The board is required to establish a budget adequate enough to pay the bills, current and future. The governing documents also stipulate that expenses be divided according to a prescribed formula. Special assessments almost always reallocate expenses to future owners that dont owe them because they werent in ownership when the expenses were incurred. Changing the allocation of expenses takes a 100 approval vote of all members. That will never happen because who is willing to pay more than they already do? In addition, some of those called on to pay a special assessment future owners wont have been given the chance to vote at all.
If a member vote is required to increase the annual budget usually not the case and the owners vote to put off paying some expenses to the future, the matter is out of the boards hands. But the consequences will come back to haunt the entire HOA if some future owners refuse to pay the special assessment. The debt is simply not theirs to pay.
Put another way, special assessments are the consequence of not reserving adequately in the past. The roof wears out over years as does the paint and other long life components the HOA maintains. If all owners over those years arent paying their fair share, special assessments result. Special assessments are an illegal reallocation of expenses. A fully funded reserve plan divides up those long range expenses fairly and eliminates the need for special assessments. For more on Reserve Planning, see Regenesis.net.
Question: My neighbor has a willow tree that makes a big mess in my yard. Does the board have that right to require removal?
Answer: As a general rule, the HOA and board have the authority to control landscape issues that impact neighbors. The problem with willow trees is that pruning will not address the problem you describe, only total removal will.
The bigger question is: Are you advocating removal of all trees? Trees do what trees do and wind does what wind does. All neighbors experience some degree of inconvenience because of tree debris. While it is reasonable to require owners to keep trees trimmed, removal is unreasonable unless there is a life/property damage threat or if the tree in question has clearly overgrown the location.
Question: Our HOA is considering renovating our landscaping after 18 years. We have a number of trees that have overgrown, impede views and are too close to the buildings. How do we figure the percentage of increased unit resale value that would come with new and improved landscaping? We need to resolve this prior to investing thousands of dollars.
Answer: Developing such a percentage is impossible. That said, keeping the landscaping looking good will help maximize property values since curb appeal has much to do with value and landscaping has much to do with curb appeal.
You should invest in a professional landscape designer who can develop a comprehensive plan that will consider bush, plant and tree removals and additions. Modern designs combine larger planting beds, less grass and more hardscape like boulders, water features so maintenance and water costs can be reduced. The art of xeriscaping selects low water need plants to reduce the need of irrigation. Hiring an arborist to do corrective pruning and selected removal of trees may satisfy the view needs.
Question: Meeting minutes are supposed to be approved at the following meeting board or annual as applicable But in either case, a lot to time can pass and who can remember the details? Should the minutes be sent out shortly after the meeting in "raw" form?
Answer: Meeting minutes can, and should, be distributed in "draft" form within a week of the meeting so that all are informed what happened. The actual approval of those minutes doesnt happen until the following meeting. They should be previewed by the board for typos or discrepancies before distribution.
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