Here Come The Special Assessments!

guest blog by Deborah Goonan

When buyers consider a condominium association, they are often sold on a “carefree, maintenance free” lifestyle. There are promises that someone else will take care of the landscape, cleaning the sidewalks and parking lots, and most exterior maintenance. It can be very enticing for busy professionals or retirees who don’t have the time or inclination to do the work themselves.

But the reality is that, when you buy into a Association-Governed Residential Community, you are actually purchasing shares in a corporation. And the truth is, all too often that corporation does not perform optimally. There are no guarantees that the developer or owner controlled Association board will operate with efficiency or fairness. Even with the best of intentions, mistakes happen. And sometimes the Board neglects its duties.

Even with a management company, the landscape maintenance might not be done consistently. Traffic signs might be installed incorrectly. That was the case at Villas on the Green Condominium Association, managed by M.M.I. of Palm Beach, FL.

A preventable accident

In 2011, overgrown hedges and a misplaced stop sign obscured visibility for a resident backing out of her driveway. Unfortunately, she did not see 9-year-old Andrew Connor Curtis riding his bicycle on the sidewalk. The result was the untimely death of young Andrew.

The parents of Andrew sued the driver of the vehicle, Villas on the Green Condo Association, and M.M.I. of Palm Beach (the management company), resulting in a $12 million award, 90% of which is payable by the condo association and the management company. The court ruled, and an appellate court upheld, that, as a result of the Condo Association’s and Management Company’s failure to properly maintain visibility at the end of a driveway and roadway intersection, two parents lost their child.

Added risk for HOA and condo owners

Had this accident occurred outside of an Association-Governed Residential Community, only the driver of the vehicle would have been brought to court. Of course, the owner probably would have kept the hedges trimmed to begin with. The municipality would have properly installed the stop sign.

But because the Condo Association is a corporation, it can sue and be sued for various reasons. Even if the condo association is adequately insured against this kind of loss (not all Associations are), future insurance premiums will significantly increase. Every condo owner will pay for this lawsuit, just as they have paid for inadequate maintenance that led to a tragic accident in the first place.

Owners have very little control over these unpredictable liabilities – which they automatically share – yet another hidden cost of owning property in a homeowners, condominium, or cooperative association.

Appeals Court Upholds $12 Million Award in Wrongful Death Lawsuit


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Ward Lucas is a longtime investigative journalist and television news anchor. He has won more than 70 national and regional awards for Excellence in Journalism, Creative Writing and community involvement. His new book, "Neighbors At War: the Creepy Case Against Your Homeowners Association," is now available for purchase. In it, he discusses the American homeowners association movement, from its racist origins, to its transformation into a lucrative money machine for the nation's legal industry. From scams to outright violence to foreclosures and neighborhood collapses across the country, the reader will find this book enormously compelling and a necessary read for every homeowner. Knowledge is self-defense. No homeowner contemplating life in an HOA should neglect reading this book. No HOA board officer should overlook this examination of the pitfalls in HOA management. And no lawyer representing either side in an HOA dispute should gloss over what homeowners are saying or believing about the lawsuit industry.

4 thoughts on “Here Come The Special Assessments!

  1. Pingback: FLORIDA – Here Come The Special Assessments! | HOA Reform Coalition

  2. AngelaB

    This is frightening and something no one is told when buying a condo. You think the HOA just takes care of the outside and attempts to quiet loud neighbors. If I had been better educated I would never have purchased a condo–I just would have rented an apartment. I thought I was being smart by “owning” instead of renting, but I am actually worse off than if I were just renting.

  3. Nila Ridings

    Angela B.,

    You are correct. Anyone that would consider owning a condo is better off in an apartment. If you don’t like the apartment you can move when the lease runs out. No, you probably can’t paint the interior walls pink with purple polka dots but knowing the risks of owning in an HOA most people could live with the neutral walls.

    If the roof needs replacing, the parking lot needs sealing, the trees need trimming, or the property manager decides to embezzle $500K you will not get an assessment letter from the landlord. On the other hand if the furnace goes out or the dishwasher breaks you won’t pay to fix those either. The key is to find a good landlord that isn’t a slum lord and takes care of the property. The rent may be higher but worth it.

    Years ago, I had some neighbors that both lived to be 99. They were married over 70 years. Never did they own a home. They lived in the same apartment building for over 20 years and I was their neighbor for 5. I always found it interesting that they never had any desire to own a home. They never had children either. Our landlord had some vacant ground next to our building and they let Jim grow a garden there. We all reaped the benefits because he would leave fresh produce at our doors during the summer. He always removed the snow from my car in the morning so I gave him a key and he had it clean and warm when I left for work. When I was sick his wife, Olive would make me meals and they had a key to my apartment so they brought wonderful home-cooked meals to me and left it on the kitchen table. Later they would come pick up the dishes.

    I so miss the days of carefree living and great neighbors! I will forever remember, love and miss Jim and Olive.

    The money I spent on that apartment was money well-spent.

    1. AngelaB

      What a delightful story of great neighbors. From what I’ve experienced and heard you don’t get that friendly neighborhood feeling in HOA communities. Everyone is suspicious of each other and keeps their distance. I’ll smile and greet people I pass in the hallway, but that’s it. I don’t befriend anyone because I don’t know who’s for or against me. It’s an awful feeling. I’m more relaxed at work than at home. Further every single communication from my HOA is a threat of some sort, a compliance letter, or some kind of bad news (such as raising fees AGAIN). There is NEVER anything good. Nothing. It’s depressing. At some point when I can break even I’m going to cut my losses and leave, but it saddens me that it has to be this way. I’m told I should be on the board so that I can change things, but assuming I had the time could I change things? Really?


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