Recently, an attorney that also represents California community associations sent out a newsletter that dealt with assessment collection during the pandemic. We already addressed this issue in our COVID-19 HOA Guidebook. We certainly do not agree with a lot of what that other attorney had to say on this issue and we know that most other community association attorneys that we have spoken with feel the same way. And we preface our comments by saying that we are certainly sympathetic to all those association owners who have been laid off or furloughed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. But we are also pragmatic and realistic about how the non-payment of assessments will negatively impact the hundreds of California community associations we represent.
The newsletter from the other attorney suggested that when addressing unpaid assessments as a result of the pandemic (which may not be that easy for boards to determine), association boards need to balance board duties. That newsletter correctly stated that boards have a fiduciary duty to keep their associations’ operational, meaning that they have to pay the utility bills, pay for insurance, for maintenance of the common area, the cost of dealing emergencies, pay vendors, etc. Our colleague suggested that boards need to balance these obligations against the fact that increasing numbers of members cannot pay their assessments because of the pandemic. The newsletter, however, offered no suggestions on how to do this as there is no way to effectively balance the obligations as associations need the money assessed to pay the association’s bills. Yes, boards can delay any discretionary projects, but most associations do not have significant discretionary projects.
As stated in the introduction, don’t misunderstand our pragmatic approach as suggesting that we are not sympathetic to those owners that have lost their jobs and cannot afford to pay their assessments; of course we are sympathetic. That said, those owners will need to find a way to pay their assessments or at the very least contact their associations to request a payment plan so that their associations can manage their expectation of payments and can continue to operate and meet its obligations.