What Happens If I Don't Pay the HOA Special Assessment?

As long as the HOA was acting within its powers, your nonpayment could potentially result in late fees, prohibition on use of common areas, and a lien on your property.

By , J.D. UCLA School of Law
Updated 10/04/2023

As a resident of a home, condo, or townhome in a planned development, you might have faced the unpleasant experience of your homeowners' association (HOA) billing you for a special assessment; perhaps for something you're not even excited about, such as to resurface tennis courts that you never use. What happens if you simply refuse to pay an assessment? That's what we'll discuss here, including:

  • the underlying reasons for special assessments
  • how to check whether the HOA is overreaching, and
  • HOA enforcement powers for nonpayment.

HOA Residents Obligations Regarding Payment of Special Assessments

Although it might seem unfair, as a homeowner in the development you are obligated to pay your portion of the HOA expenses. If the tennis courts are common areas that your HOA must maintain, you must pay your share of the maintenance cost whether you play tennis or not.

Special assessments usually come up when an HOA hasn't collected enough money in periodic dues from each owner to keep up with repair and replacement of common areas, or when unforeseen circumstances cause damage (such as if the tennis court surface wore out well before its expected lifespan). In such cases, the HOA might need to collect a special assessment from each owner to make up the difference.

Double Checking Your HOA's Power to Charge Special Assessment

Exactly how far the HOA's powers extend to impose special assessments, and what the HOA can do if you refuse to pay, depend on your development's governing documents.

You might want to review the governing documents to make sure, for starters, that the HOA acted within its powers and followed all requirements in imposing the special assessment. For example, if the governing documents say that the HOA must obtain a majority vote of the members prior to any special assessment, and it did not do so, you might refuse payment and challenge the assessment's validity.

How Will the HOA Enforce the Special Assessment?

What the HOA can do by way of enforcement if you refuse to pay is also determined by the governing documents. The HOA probably has the power to assess late fees and fines on any unpaid amounts. Some HOAs' governing documents allow them to prohibit a homeowner from using any common area until all dues and fees are paid up. Additionally, some governing documents give the HOA the right to place a lien on a delinquent owner's property.

Because the consequences of nonpayment can be harsh, your best course of action might be to pay up. If payment outright is a problem for your budget, talk to your HOA about working out a payment plan.

If you foresee continued problems with such assessments, you might consider getting involved with the HOA board to improve its management, or moving to another community without an HOA.

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