I was contacted by my mortgage company that my homeowners association filed a lien on my house for outstanding assessments. I never even received a notice from the HOA! Admittedly, I fell behind on my HOA assessments after I was laid off from my job, but is it legal for the HOA to lien my house? Wouldn’t there be a protocol for notifying me before they lien my home! What are my rights and do I have any recourse?
— Chris H.
Hello Chris, I often work with hard-working, responsible homeowners who happen to fall behind on their assessments due to financial troubles, so you are not alone.
There are steps you can take to stop the delinquency process and potentially prevent additional fees and interest.
First, let me state that associations have not only the right, but the obligation to aggressively pursue delinquent accounts.
Associations are legally permitted to not only lien properties with delinquent accounts, but also to pursue more serious actions such as judicial or nonjudicial foreclosures.
Having said that, the law provides a strict process associations must follow to ensure that owners are properly noticed.
Delinquency or collection policies differ from one Association to the next, so I encourage you to obtain a copy of your association’s policy.
That said, in order for an association to lien a homeowners property the association is required to mail a certified pre-lien letter to the delinquent owner at least 30 days prior to filing a lien on the property.
Pre-lien letters are typically sent out 30 days after your account officially becomes delinquent, so if your assessments are due on the 1st of the month, and late after the 15th, a pre-lien letter will typically be sent out 45 days after the due date.
Should the account remain delinquent 30 days after the pre-lien is issued, or 75 days after the account became delinquent, the association may approve filing a lien against the property as a means to secure the association’s interest in the dept.
If the association fails to send out the certified pre-lien letter 30 days prior to filing the lien or if the association files the lien before the required 30 days after the pre-lien was issued, the lien may be null and void. If an Association attempts to send a certified pre-lien letter and it is returned undeliverable, the Association must also send a pre-lien letter via regular first class mail to satisfy the notification requirement.
At our management firm we send the pre-lien letter both certified and regular first class simultaneously to ensure owners receive the letter and that we meet our legal notification requirements.
For an association to legally lien a property, the lien must be approved at a properly noticed general or open session board meeting and reflected in the association’s meeting minutes.
To protect the privacy of delinquent homeowners, association’s will refer to delinquent accounts by either their account number or the assessor parcel identification number (APN).
Homeowners have the right to request evidence of the notice, including proof that the certified pre-lien was sent and that the association followed the proper timeline and steps outlined above.
Owners also have the right to request, and the association has the obligation to provide you with, the meeting minutes reflecting the board vote to place a lien on your property. The law requires the minutes be provided to owners within 10 days of submitting a written request.
If you learn that proper procedures and protocol were not followed, you may request to have the lien removed, but unless you pay off your dept, the association has the right to simply re-file a new lien.
Associations are afforded many tools to pursue delinquent accounts, including not only liens, but also taking homeowners to small claims court and even foreclosing on properties. I urge you to contact your association’s board of directors to discuss an agreeable payment plan to begin satisfying your debt.
Although the lien will most likely remain in place until your dept is paid in full, once a payment plan is approve, you will typically stop accruing late charges and interest.
More often than not, boards strive to work with homeowners who have fallen behind on their assessments.