If I Stop Paying HOA Dues, What Collection Methods Can the Homeowners' Association Use?

The homeowners’ association might place a lien on your home, sue you, take away your privileges, or foreclose.

By , Attorney (University of Denver Sturm College of Law)

If you own a home that's part of a homeowners' association (HOA) and fall behind in your HOA dues or assessments, your homeowners' association can likely charge late fees and penalties. The association will probably initially attempt to collect the overdue assessments and fees from you using traditional methods. For example, the HOA might call you and send letters.

But if those tactics don't get you to pay up, the association will probably try other ways to collect from you, like:

  • taking away your privileges to use the common facilities
  • filing a lawsuit against you, or
  • by getting a lien on your home.

The HOA might even go so far as to foreclose. But if the HOA begins a foreclosure, you might have a defense to the action.

Types of Fees and Penalties the HOA May Charge

The type and amount of fees and penalties that the HOA can charge depends on your state's laws and the terms of the HOA's governing documents, like the Declaration of Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions (CC&Rs).

Generally, if you don't pay the HOA assessments, the association may charge you for:

  • late fees (the CC&Rs might say how much the HOA can charge or state law could limit it)
  • reasonable costs incurred in collecting the delinquent assessment, including attorneys' fees and court costs, and
  • interest on all sums due.

When you buy a home in a community with an HOA, you should be sure to read the association's governing documents and review your state's laws. That way, you'll know what kind of fees and penalties the association can charge if you don't keep up with the assessments.

Collection Methods the HOA Might Use

The HOA's governing documents, like its CC&Rs, and state law, often set out the collection methods the HOA can use. Some of those methods include the following:

Sending You a Demand Notice

The first thing an HOA will likely do is send you a notice demanding payment. The notice will typically include:

  • the total amount you owe
  • how many days you're late on the dues or assessments
  • how much interest and late fees you owe, and
  • what other steps the HOA might take if you don't pay the debt.

The HOA might also call you to warn you that you're late in your payments.

Taking Away Your Privileges

One tactic your HOA might use to coerce you to pay is to take away your right to use recreational facilities, like gyms, pools, and tennis courts, until you get caught up.

Making Your Renters Pay

If you rent out the property to tenants, the HOA might go after your tenants seeking payment. Some HOAs require any tenants to sign an agreement promising to pay association dues if the landlord-owners don't.

Filing a Lawsuit

Some states allow an HOA to sue a homeowner for unpaid amounts. Often, HOAs pursue delinquent assessments in small claims court. The HOA files its lawsuit and might either get a default judgment (an automatic win because you don't respond to the suit) or prevail in its case. Once the HOA gets a money judgment against you, it might garnish your wages or levy your bank accounts.

After getting the judgment, the HOA sends documentation to your employer to garnish your wages, typically through the local sheriff. The documents direct your employer to take a specific amount of your paycheck and send it to the HOA until your debt is paid off.

Alternatively, the HOA might take steps to collect directly from your bank by freezing your bank account, also called a bank account levy, attachment, or garnishment. When your bank account is frozen, you can't withdraw money, outstanding checks won't clear, you can't make transfers, and you might be responsible for bank charges, like fees for having insufficient funds in your account.

Getting A Lien On Your Home

HOAs typically have the power to get a lien on your home if you fall behind in your HOA dues or assessments. Sometimes, the HOA will record the lien in the county records, even though recordation isn't always required. The lien usually automatically attaches to the property as of the date the CC&Rs were recorded or the assessments became due.

A lien on your property probably won't cause you an issue until you attempt to sell the home, you try to refinance your mortgage, or the HOA decides to foreclose.

Conducting a Foreclosure

If the HOA has a lien on your home, it may foreclose the lien as permitted by the CC&Rs and state law. HOAs have been known to foreclose even in cases where the homeowner is only behind by a few hundred or thousand dollars.

Strangely enough, your mortgage lender or servicer might be more willing than your HOA to cut you some slack if you're late in your payments.

Defenses to an HOA's Foreclosure

You might have a defense to an HOA's foreclosure action, like:

  • the HOA charged you too much or charged you unreasonable fees
  • the CC&Rs don't authorize the HOA's charges
  • the HOA failed to follow state foreclosure laws
  • the HOA misapplied your payments
  • the HOA failed to record the lien correctly, or
  • the CC&Rs don't authorize the HOA to foreclose.

To fight an HOA foreclosure, you might be able to raise one or more of these defenses.

Talk to an Attorney

If you're facing an HOA foreclosure, consider talking to a local foreclosure attorney to get information about potential defenses, other ways to avoid the foreclosure, and details about HOA foreclosure laws in your state.

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