Massachusetts HOA and COA Foreclosures

If you fail to pay your condominium owners' association or homeowners' association fees in Massachusetts, the association can get a lien on your property and might foreclose on your home.

By , Attorney University of Denver Sturm College of Law
Updated 4/04/2023

If your home is part of a condominium owners' association (COA) or homeowners' association (HOA) in Massachusetts and you fall behind in assessments:

  • The COA or HOA can usually get a lien on your home if you become delinquent in paying the assessments.
  • After you default on the assessments, the COA or HOA may foreclose.
  • Lien priority determines what happens to other liens, like mortgages, if a COA or HOA lien is foreclosed.

If the COA or HOA initiates a foreclosure, you might have a defense to the action. Or you might be able to negotiate a way to get caught up on the overdue amounts and save your home.

How COA or HOA Assessments Generally Work

When you buy a single-family home, townhome, or condominium in a planned community with covenants, you'll most likely pay fees and assessments, often collectively called "assessments" to a COA or HOA. If you fall behind in the assessments, the association will likely initially try to collect the debt using traditional methods. For instance, the association will probably call you and send letters.

But if those tactics don't get you to pay up, the association might try other ways to collect from you. The association could take away your privileges to use the common facilities or file a lawsuit for a money judgment against you.

Based on the association's Declaration of Condominium or Declaration of Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions (CC&Rs) and state law, most COAs and HOAs also have the power to get a lien on your property if you become delinquent in assessments. Once you fall behind in payments, a lien will usually automatically attach to your property. Sometimes, the association will record its lien with the county recorder to provide public notice that the lien exists, regardless of whether state law requires recording.

An assessments lien clouds the title to the property, hindering your ability to sell or refinance the home. In addition, the property can also be foreclosed to force a sale to a new owner—even if the property has a mortgage.

How Do COA Liens in Massachusetts Work?

In Massachusetts, a COA is entitled to a lien for assessments from the time the assessments are due. (Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 183A, § 6(a)(ii)).

Once an assessment has been at least 60 days late, the COA must send notice by certified and first-class mail to the condo owner stating the amount of the delinquency. (Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 183A, § 6(c)).

How Do HOA Liens in Massachusetts Work?

If you're part of an HOA in Massachusetts, check the association's governing documents to learn about the HOA's right to get a lien on your home if you don't pay the assessments.

Charges a COA or HOA in Massachusetts May Include in an Assessments Lien

State law and the COA or HOA's governing documents will usually set out the type of charges that may be included in the lien.

Charges a COA in Massachusetts May Include In the Lien

In Massachusetts, a COA is permitted to include certain charges in its lien, including:

  • past-due assessments
  • assessments for expenses caused by the misconduct of the owner (or the owner's tenants or guests)
  • late charges
  • fines
  • attorneys' fees
  • interest
  • court costs, and
  • collection and enforcement costs. (Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 183A, § 6(a)(ii)).

If you make a written request, the COA must provide you with a statement setting forth the amount of unpaid common expenses and any other sums which have been assessed. It must send this statement within ten business days after it receives your request. (Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 183A, § 6(d)). The COA may charge a reasonable fee for providing the statement.

Charges an HOA in Massachusetts May Include In the Lien

To find out which charges a Massachusetts HOA may include in its lien, check the association's CC&Rs and other governing documents.

COA and HOA Lien Foreclosures in Massachusetts

Once a COA or HOA has a lien, it may foreclose.

What Happens If You Don't Pay COA Fees in Massachusetts? Perhaps a Foreclosure

In Massachusetts, a COA must file a civil action (lawsuit) to foreclose its lien. (Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 183A, § 6(c), Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 254, § 5, Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 254, § 5A).

What Happens If You Don't Pay HOA Fees in Massachusetts? Possibly a Foreclosure

Read the association's governing documents to find out about an HOA's right to foreclose if you become delinquent in paying the assessments.

COA or HOA Liens in Massachusetts and Your Mortgage

A common misconception is that the association can't foreclose if you're current with your mortgage payments. But an association's right to foreclose isn't dependent on whether you're paid up on your mortgage. Instead, lien priority determines what happens in a foreclosure.

What Is Lien Priority?

The priority of liens establishes who gets paid first following a foreclosure sale and often determines whether a lienholder will get paid at all. Liens generally follow the "first in time, first in right" rule, which says that whichever lien is recorded first in the land records has higher priority than later recorded liens. A first lien has a higher priority than other liens and gets the first crack at the foreclosure sale proceeds.

If any proceeds are left after the first lien is paid in full, the excess proceeds go to the second lienholder until that lien is paid off. And so on. A lien with a low priority might get nothing from a foreclosure sale.

But state law or an association's governing documents might adjust lien priority.

Priority of COA Liens in Massachusetts

In Massachusetts, a COA's lien is generally prior to all other liens, except for:

  • liens and encumbrances recorded before the condominium master deed is recorded
  • liens for real estate taxes and other municipal assessments or charges, and
  • a first mortgage on the condo recorded before the date on which the assessment sought to be enforced became delinquent. (Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 183A, § 6(c)).

Is Massachusetts a Super Lien State?

In Massachusetts, six months' worth of delinquent common expense assessments, including costs and attorneys' fees, have super-lien status. (Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 183A, § 6(c)).

Priority of HOA Liens in Massachusetts

To find out the priority of an HOA lien in Massachusetts, check the association's governing documents.

Talk to a Lawyer If You're Facing a COA or HOA Foreclosure

If you're facing a COA or HOA foreclosure in Massachusetts, consider consulting with a foreclosure attorney to learn more about state laws, how they apply to your situation, and to discuss all legal options available in your particular circumstances.

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