If you live in a house, condo, or townhome that is part of a planned, covenanted community, you most likely have to pay monthly Homeowners' Association (HOA) fees and, at times, you will have to pay special assessments (often collectively referred to as “assessments.”)
Understanding How HOAs Work
An HOA has a board of directors. Each year, the board will come up with a budget for the community that includes how much each unit or household will be charged as a monthly HOA fee during the year. (Learn more about homeowners’ associations in our article Homeowners' Associations (HOAs) and CC&Rs.)
Generally, the monthly HOA fee consists of two parts:
- An amount to cover current year operations. Part of the monthly fee will be designated to pay for current year operations, which typically includes things such as landscaping, snow removal, pool maintenance, insurance, and water.
- An amount that goes into reserves. The remaining portion of the monthly fee is placed into reserves for long-term repairs and replacements, such as paying for a new roof for the community center or a new road, or to cover the cost of building additional parking lots. (Having ample reserves ensures that the HOA has money available to pay for high-cost repairs when they come due.)
So long as the HOA board is able to accurately predict which repairs will come due and when, the monthly dues should cover the current operating expenses as well as long-term repairs.
However, the board’s predictions are not always accurate. Occasionally, the HOA may need to come up with funds in excess of the money raised by the monthly fees. In that case, the board usually has the authority to impose a special assessment to cover the one-time expense of a major repair or improvement.
Reasons Why the Monthly Dues May Fall Short of Covering Expenses
There are several possible reasons why the monthly fees may not provide enough to the reserves to cover long-term repairs. For example:
- the monthly operating expenses may be higher than expected
- some homeowners may not pay their monthly HOA dues, or
- there could be an unexpected catastrophe or natural disaster that causes damage not covered by insurance.
HOA Liens and Foreclosure
Most HOAs have the power to place a lien on the homeowner’s property if he or she doesn’t pay the monthly dues and/or any special assessments. Once the HOA has a lien on a homeowner’s property, it may foreclose on that lien as permitted by the CC&Rs and pursuant to state law. (Learn more in Nolo’s article HOA Liens & Foreclosures: An Overview.)