Yes. If you live in a community that is part of a homeowners association (HOA) and fall behind in your HOA dues or assessments, the HOA most likely will be able to charge you additional fees and/or penalties.
Types of Fees and Penalties the HOA May Charge
The type and amount of fees and penalties that are permissible will depend on the laws of your state and the terms of the HOA’s governing documents, such as bylaws and the Declaration of Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions (CC&Rs).
Generally, if you don’t pay your HOA assessments, the association may charge you for:
- late fees (the amount is set by the governing documents, but may be limited by state law)
- reasonable costs incurred in collecting the delinquent assessment (including attorneys’ fees and court costs), and
- interest on all sums due.
When you purchase a home in a covenanted community, you should be sure to read the HOA governing documents (as well as review your state’s laws) so you know what kind of fees and penalties the association can charge you if you don’t keep up with the assessments. (To learn more about how to do your own legal research, see Nolo’s Laws and Legal Research section.)
The HOA May Foreclose or Sue to Collect Delinquent Amounts
Once you become delinquent in assessments and various fees and penalties have been imposed, the HOA will likely pursue whatever legal means are necessary and available to collect this debt. This means that if you don’t pay up, the HOA may:
- foreclose on your home (learn more in Nolo’s article HOA Liens & Foreclosures: An Overview), or
- sue you in small claims court to collect the delinquent amounts. (The dollar limit for small claims court varies from state to state, but in most cases will cover delinquent HOA amounts.)
What to Do if You Don’t Agree with HOA Fees and Penalties
If you disagree with the fees and penalties that your HOA is charging you, you are probably better off to simply pay them and then file your own suit in small claims court to dispute the amounts. (Otherwise there's always the chance that the HOA will foreclose and force you out of your home. Additionally, if you don’t pay the delinquent amounts, late fees and interest will continue to accrue.)
Keep in mind that if you lose the suit, you may end up having to pay the HOA's legal fees. To ensure you have a clear sense of your chances of success before filing your case in court, it is recommended that you first consult with a real estate attorney to obtain advice that is specific to your situation and circumstances.