Residents who live in a planned development—whether it’s a condominium, townhouse, or single-family home—in the District of Columbia usually have to pay assessments to a condominium owners’ association (COA) or homeowners' association (HOA). If you fall behind in those payments, in most cases, the COA or HOA can get a lien on your home that could lead to a foreclosure.
Read on to learn about COA and HOA foreclosures and related laws in Washington, D.C.
Washington, D.C.’s condominium laws can be found in Title 42, Subtitle III, Chapter 19 ( §§ 42-1901.01 through 42-1904.18) of the District of Columbia Official Code. The laws apply to condominiums created after March 29, 1977. With limited exception, they also apply to most condos created before that date in regard to events and circumstances that happen after that time.
HOAs are controlled by their governing documents, which normally include the Declaration of Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions (CC&Rs) and bylaws. The specific rules regarding assessments liens can commonly be found in these governing documents. You should have received copies of the CC&Rs and bylaws when you bought your home.
In most cases, a COA or HOA has the power to place a lien on your property if you become delinquent in paying the assessments. Generally, the lien will automatically attach to the home from the time that the assessments come due.
Under D.C. law, a COA is entitled to a lien on a condo for any unpaid assessments from the time the assessment becomes due. If an assessment is payable in installments, the full amount of the assessment is a lien from the time the first installment becomes due and payable. (D.C. Code § 42-1903.13(a)).
The recording of the COA’s governing documents in the county records constitutes record notice and perfection of the lien. The COA doesn't have to record its lien in the county records in order for it to be effective. (D.C. Code § 42-1903.13(b). (In some states, however, a COA has to record its lien.)
If you’re part of an HOA, check the association’s governing documents, like the CC&Rs and bylaws, to learn about the association’s right to place a lien on your home if you don’t pay the assessments.
State law and the COA or HOA’s governing documents will usually set out the type of charges that an association may impose in addition to the past-due assessments. In the District of Columbia, a COA may impose:
To find out which charges an HOA in the District of Columbia may include in its lien, check the association's governing documents.
Lien priority determines what happens to other liens, mortgages, and lines of credit if a COA or HOA lien is foreclosed. (To learn more about lien priority and HOA foreclosures, see What happens to my mortgages if the HOA forecloses on its lien?)
In Washington, D.C., COA liens are prior to all other liens and encumbrances, except for:
To find out the priority of an HOA lien in the District of Columbia, check the association’s governing documents. Often, an HOA’s CC&Rs will state that a lender’s first mortgage or deed of trust is superior to an HOA lien.
In some states, a lien for delinquent common expense assessments has priority over even a lender’s first mortgage or deed of trust. This kind of lien is called a “super lien.”
In the District of Columbia, a COA is entitled to a super lien over a first mortgage or first deed of trust recorded before the date on which the assessment became delinquent in an amount equal to six months’ worth of common expense assessments. (D.C. Code § 42-1903.13(a)(2)).
If you make a written request to the COA, the association must provide you with a statement of the amount of unpaid assessments within ten days after receiving your request. If the COA doesn't provide the statement within this time period, the lien is extinguished. (D.C. Code § 42-1903.13(h)).
If you default on the assessments, the COA or HOA may foreclose. A common misconception is that the association can’t foreclose if you’re current with your mortgage payments. But the association’s right to foreclose has nothing to do with whether you’re current on your mortgage payments.
In the District of Columbia, a COA may foreclose its lien nonjudicially unless the COA’s governing documents prohibit nonjudicial foreclosures. (D.C. Code § 42-1903.13(c)(1)).
The association can’t hold a foreclosure sale until at least 31 days after it records a notice in the land records and sends the notice to the unit owner. (D.C. Code § 42-1903.13(c)(4)). In addition, the notice must be published in a newspaper of general circulation in the District of Columbia on at least three separate days during the 15-day period before the sale date. (D.C. Code § 42-1903.13(c)(5)).
A condo owner has the right to cure a default in assessment payments at any time prior to the foreclosure sale by making full payment of past due assessments, plus any late charge, interest due, and reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs incurred in connection with the enforcement of the lien. (D.C. Code § 42-1903.13(c)(2)).
Unless the COA starts the foreclosure—or sues the condo owner personally for payment—within three years from the date the assessment became due, the lien will be extinguished. (D.C. Code § 42-1903.13(e)).
To find out about an HOA’s right to foreclose if you become delinquent in paying the assessments, read the association’s governing documents.
If you’re behind in assessments and facing a COA or HOA foreclosure in the District of Columbia, consider consulting with a local attorney to discuss all legal options available in your particular circumstances.