Preparing for the Inevitable: Raising Assessments and How to Do It
Whether it’s to pay for repairs to the common area, replenish reserve funds, pay for increased utilities, stay even with inflation, raise funds for a new project addition such as a playground or pool (also known as capital improvement), or even help pay for litigation, there will come a time when a homeowners association will need to raise its assessments. This article explains why, how, and when to raise assessments, and how to best communicate it to the membership. When you go through this process keep in mind everyone knows that the cost for a gallon of milk has gone up along with a gallon of gas, so increases in assessments should not be a surprise. Our association boards shouldn’t have to approach the news of assessments increases with shame or threats of retribution, the truth is it is just a “sign of the times.”
First, it’s important to know how assessments work. An association’s annual or “regular” assessments should total the amount of expected expenses for the year which are collected from the membership. These regular assessments are deposited in the operating account and some of the funds may be saved in a reserve account for designated line items as identified in the association’s annual budget. As the association incurs expenses, the operating funds are used to pay for such expenses. If the association has reserve funds set aside for, as an example, major repair items, such as a pool or a roof, then the association can use those reserve funds as that is what the reserve funds are intended for. But when there are additional ongoing operating expenses that arise in which the operating account is insufficient and in which reserve funds can’t be used for that purpose*, the association will have to raise its regular assessments or may need to levy a special assessment based on urgency and need. (Note*: Associations do have the ability to borrow from reserve funds for ongoing operating expenses but are required to pay back the borrowed reserve funds which typically result in raising assessments.). Below is a summary of the methods of raising assessments.