2006-2007 Annual Budget and Disclosure Checklist
Once again, it’s time for community managers and board members to begin preparing association budgets as well as preparing to distribute other required disclosure documents. As we do each year, SwedelsonGottlieb is pleased to provide you with our updated Annual Budget and Disclosure Checklist.
The provisions of the California Civil Code governing community associations require that you provide members with an ever-growing list of disclosure information, including the “pro forma operating budget,” which must include, among other things, information regarding the association’s expenses, income and reserves.
Other required disclosures include information concerning owners’ rights as members of the association. Much of the information required by the Civil Code must be distributed to homeowners within a 60-day window “not less than 30 days nor more than 90 days” prior to the beginning of the association’s fiscal year.
For those community associations operating under a fiscal year that coincides with the calendar year, the disclosures must be distributed not later than December 1, 2006. For those community associations whose fiscal year commences on a date other than January 1, 2007, the information in this newsletter should be utilized by calculating the appropriate calendar deadlines prior to the commencement of the new fiscal year. Keep in mind that there are important legislative changes effective in 2007, some of which will affect what disclosures are required.
BUDGETING FOR BAD DEBT
As indicated in last year’s Annual Budget and Disclosure Checklist, we advised that real estate experts expected real estate sales and price increases to slow down and foreclosure activity to rise in 2006 due to the large number of risky 100% financed “interest-only” and variable interest rate mortgages retained by buyers, and we advised you to consider budgeting for the likelihood that some owners would not pay their assessments. Indeed, the California real estate market is in a slowdown and foreclosures have tripled from September 2005 to September 2006, which includes a 19% increase from August to September alone. We are optimistic that our Association Lien Services company will continue to successfully collect delinquent assessments, but if a home is foreclosed on by a senior trust deed, it is not always possible to collect assessments. Do the words “upside down” mean anything to you? For those of us who have been around awhile, back in the old days (before 1995), many owners found that they had no equity as the value of their homes were less than their loans. Many let their homes go as they were “upside down.”
As this trend shows few signs of weakening and there are still a large number of high-risk mortgages encumbering California real estate, we continue to advise you to allow for a reasonable amount of bad debt in your 2007 budgets.
BUDGETING FOR COST OF DOCUMENT INSPECTION BY OWNERS
As of July 1, 2006, new Civil Code Section 1365.2 greatly expanded the types of documents homeowners are entitled to inspect. Now, homeowners are not limited merely to inspecting financial reports, but are able to see bank statements, cancelled checks, contracts and other financial documents. An association has an obligation to redact, which means to edit a document to omit confidential and/or privileged information, such as information relating to the names of employees, social security numbers, account numbers, etc. Unfortunately, the legislature only allows an association to charge a homeowner $10 per hour and a maximum of $200 for preparing and providing the requested documents. It is expected that some associations will require an attorney’s assistance in the proper preparation of confidential and/or privileged documents that may be requested by a homeowner.
Although associations are only allowed to charge homeowners $10 per hour (up to $200 total) to prepare requested documents, which costs include attorney services, management companies may charge the associations their extra hourly fees for their services, if required. Additional fees charged by management for these services are probably justified, and associations are encouraged to add additional monies into their budgets for these additional management services. The amount that should be budgeted depends on the size of the association and the history of the association’s homeowner requests for documents.
ANTICIPATING SPECIAL ASSESSMENTS
The California Civil Code also details what is required to be stated or presented in an association’s budget and financial reports. In addition to the budget and other required financial disclosures, the Code requires that associations, through their boards of directors, prepare a statement as to whether “the association has determined or anticipates that the levy of one or more special assessments will be required to repair, replace or restore any major component or to provide adequate reserves therefore.” The Civil Code now imposes greater disclosure obligations regarding reserves and the precise amount of increased assessments for the association’s fiscal year.
Associations need to take a good, hard look at their proposed budgets and anticipated expenses for the new fiscal year and determine whether any special assessments will be required.
This has been an issue with several associations where the board knew, or should have known, of the need for a special assessment to fund the cost of a common area repair, or replacement project, for which there were no monies in reserve, but failed to advise the members.
Some associations are purposefully choosing to under-fund reserves and rely on special assessments for common area repair or replacement projects under the theory that the homeowners who will benefit immediately from the repair should pay for it. While such a practice may be in technical compliance with Civil Code requirements because an association is not required to establish reserves, the 2005 changes to the Civil Code require that the board of directors carefully review what projects it believes will need to be undertaken and determine whether the association has sufficient funds or will require a special assessment and make the appropriate disclosure.
Some associations are disguising assessment increases by calling them “special assessments.” Rather than increase the regular assessment, some associations are levying special assessments of a set amount, per month, to fund repair programs or reserves when, in reality, this money should be part of the regular assessments. Such a practice could be challenged by homeowners. In order to be in compliance with Civil Code mandates, it is appropriate to present this information in the budget.
DISCLOSURE OF ALLEGED VIOLATIONS OF GOVERNING DOCUMENTS
There is another important disclosure that some association boards are failing to make: escrow notification of alleged violations of association governing documents. Although not part of the annual disclosure obligations, not only can this disclosure assist the association in CC&R and Rules and Regulation enforcement, but the association’s failure to make such a disclosure may adversely effect an association’s enforcement rights.
Along with all other documents delivered to escrow on behalf of an owner, the California Civil Code requires associations to provide a copy or summary of any notice previously sent to an owner that sets forth any alleged violations of the governing documents which remain unresolved at the time of the request. This means that associations are obligated to disclose to prospective owners any CC&Rs or Rules and Regulation violations alleged to have occurred on a homeowner’s property. Disclosure may compel the seller to correct the violation, as the prospective buyer will not want to inherit the problem.
THE NEW ELECTION LAW AND ITS IMPACT ON ASSOCIATION BUDGETS AND DISCLOSURES
As you hopefully are aware, as of July 1, 2006, California Civil Code Section 1363.03 sets forth the requirements that community associations are required to follow for association elections and certain other votes by association members (if this is news to you, please visit our blog and see our updates at www.hoalawblog.com). Some associations can expect to incur additional costs relating to printing of envelopes, ballots, election materials and potentially fees to retain an independent third party as inspector of election, such as an accountant, to provide the services needed during a membership vote. While you may avoid some of these expenses by finding a willing volunteer to serve as inspector of election, associations should examine their alternatives and budget accordingly.
The new election law creates additional disclosure responsibilities for associations. Election rules adopted pursuant to Civil Code Section 1363.03 are operating rules and must be sent to the members for a 30-day review period prior to adopting or changing the election rules. Associations must also give notice that the board has adopted the election rules within 15 days of their vote to adopt the rules (the procedure described in Civil Code Section 1357.130 for operating rules listed in Civil Code Section 1357.120). Additionally, within 15 days of an election, the board must publicize the tabulated results of the election in a communication directed to all members.
NEW REQUIREMENTS REGARDING INITIATION OF FORECLOSURE
The changes to California Civil Code §1365.1 and §1367.4 now require that delinquent assessments amount to at least $1,800 or are one (1) year delinquent prior to initiating foreclosure.
Associations are prohibited from foreclosing on an assessment lien unless either: (1) The amount of the assessments owed (not including costs, interest, or accelerated assessments) is $1,800 or (2) one (1) year of delinquency has passed on any unpaid assessments.
Note that payment plans do not stay the running of the one (1) year of delinquency. Here’s a tip - when levying a large special assessment, do not levy with monthly payments. Instead, have the whole amount of the special assessment due in thirty (30) days, or offer a payment plan as an accommodation. This protects the Association against an owner that sells, allows for acceleration if there is a default, and provides other benefits.
BOARD OF DIRECTORS MUST VOTE TO RECORD A LIEN
California Civil Code §1367.1(c)(B)(2) now requires that a majority of the Board of Directors must vote to decide to record a lien at an open Meeting (not Executive Session). The decision of the Board must then be recorded in the minutes of the meeting.
Note that there is no language in the statute that requires that the owner remain anonymous at this point in the proceeding, but there are requirements that the owner’s information be kept confidential in the minutes of the Executive Meeting that votes on whether to notice the sale. There is, however, the potential liability for slander (spoken) or libel (written in the minutes). Do not use the owner’s name.
David C. Swedelson
Sandra L. Gottlieb