I live in a planned development and my homeowners' association (HOA) just billed me for a $600 special assessment. It seems like we get hit with one special assessment after another. This one, they say, is to resurface the tennis courts. I don't even play tennis and have never used the courts! What happens if I just refuse to pay the assessment?
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.
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.
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 life span). In such cases, the HOA might need to collect a special assessment from each owner to make up the difference.
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.
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 moving to another community without an HOA.