The first of the month rolls around and it’s time to pay the monthly dues that keep the building operational. Repairs might need to be made, maintenance done, bills paid to keep all the common elements running and those dues make it all happen. Sometimes though—not often, but sometimes—someone will be unable to pay.
“Occasionally it might be a dispute, but more often, it’s just that they don’t have the ability to pay. In Massachusetts, our case law and statutes are really clear that condo fees are the lifeblood of associations; they pay for essential services, so they’ve been analogized to real estate taxes which you must pay even under protest. There’s not a good reason or winning reason in Massachusetts to not pay,” says Stephen Marcus, a partner with the law firm of Marcus, Errico, Emmer & Brooks, P.C., in Braintree, Massachusetts.
Michael W. Merrill, founding partner of the Boston law firm of Merrill & McGeary, adds, “It's all personal to the owner; you can’t really generalize it— whether they have the money but they’re prioritizing it elsewhere, or they just don’t have any money at all. Whether they have a health problem which is causing them to lose income, whether they have lost their job because they don’t have income. Generally, it is a personal experience of the unit owners that’s causing this. Occasionally, you do run into unit owners that are upset with the way the board is running the condominium, but I would say that’s a small segment of that population.”
While the fees might be due at the beginning of the month, sometimes boards choose to have a grace period, says David Abel, CMCA, a property manager and senior vice president with The Niles Company in Canton, Massachusetts, “The fees are due on the first, but most boards have some type of grace period. Whether it's five, 10 or 15 days, that’s kind of standard.”
“Up here (in Massachusetts) we have Chapter 183A section 6, which actually talks about sending a 60-day notice of delinquency. And so that’s when the boards tend to go to the lawyers but that doesn’t mean that they don’t start their own process prior to that time. It may be after a certain grace period has passed that the manager will send out a notice to the owner, whether that be 10 days, 15 days whatever, two days, whatever their policy is,” says Merrill.