Q&A: Behind in Condo Fees?

Q I have a bit of a tricky issue. I am the trustee of a self-managed triple-decker condo in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts. The owner of the second floor has become ill and as a result, has not been at home, and consequently has not paid her fees. They are now four months late. I have been in touch with the owner’s daughter, and she’s told me that she’s ‘working’ on getting me a check for the delayed fees, but to date no check has been received. Her daughter does not live on the premises, and I have left her messages regarding the late fees, but have not heard back from her.

I’ve been patient but need to get her to pay these fees but feel like calling her isn’t the most effective way since she’s not returning calls, and written correspondence may be useless because I don’t know where she lives. I don’t want to threaten legal action, but am at a loss. Any suggestions?

—In Arrears

A “It is certainly unfortunate that the owner of the second floor condo unit has become ill and has failed to pay the condo fees,” says Frank A. Flynn, managing partner in the Boston law firm of Downing & Flynn. “There are a number of reasons why this trustee should take quick action and contact an attorney well-versed in condominium collection law.

“First, the economic reason. Small condominium associations can ill afford the longstanding failure of the unit owner to contribute to the common area maintenance fees. It does not take a rocket scientist to realize that many small condo associations would soon become crippled by such a lack of financial resources. Certainly, for smaller condo associations, the more magnified the effect will be.

“Second, the superlien priority. Massachusetts condominium law provides that six months of condominium fees, including associated collection costs and attorney's fees, can become part of the superlien in front of a first mortgage. Please note, however, that in order to perfect the superlien with only six months outstanding, we as the condominium attorneys must send out the required notices, prepare a complaint, file it in court, and record it at the Registry of Deeds. Those tasks take several months; therefore, it is most important that the condominium attorney receive the collection matter when the condo fees are 60 days delinquent — otherwise, any amounts owed beyond six months will likely be unrecoverable.

I empathize with the illness of the second floor unit owner, but unfortunately, it appears that the longer the condominium trust fails to take legal action, the more dire the circumstances will become for the condominium. Many times, however, quick communication can lead to other family members coming to the rescue sooner rather than later. Certainly, if no legal notices go out, family members and friends will never know of the unfortunate situation and will be unable to act.

“Many times it is advisable to send a letter or make a phone call to the unit owner with a short deadline to pay the amounts owed. In this case, the Trustee may want to make one last-ditch attempt to obtain payment, either by a further phone call or by sending a letter to the unit address in the hope that the family will quickly pay off the unit owner’s delinquency.”

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