Ask a Lawyer and Get Answers to Your Legal Questions
I'm Lucy, and I'd be happy to answer your questions today.
What is your question?
Is any part of that lawyer fee for the assessment that's not due yet? Did they break down the fee at all?
Also, was the letter you received by any chance dated after you paid the assessment?
Condominium cases can be tricky, because every time you respond to a lawyer to ask him to tell you what's going on or to dispute something, he charges you for reading your correspondence and responding to it. This is allowed, because HOAs aren't for-profit organizations. So, it may help to see if the board will give you any more information about the breakdown of fees.
The law allows a board to assess collection costs to the homeowner that didn't pay. They also are entitled to an automatic lien on all units due to unpaid assessments. Technically, once a payment is one day late, it's allowed. But $600 seems excessive if all the lawyer did is send a letter - especially considering that it's probably a form letter which takes him about 10 minutes to paste your name and address into.
The other risk is that, if you make them sue you to collect and a judge disagrees with you, you lose your home AND you have to pay their legal fees. What many people choose to do in this situation is pay the fee, write "under protest" on the check, and sue for a refund on the grounds that it's unreasonable and they did not state that late payments would be subject to collection costs. You might want to check to see what, if anything, the HOA documents say about late payments, though.
If you pay the assessment and the dues, they may still come after you for the legal fees. And if they do, the legal fees will be more. If you look at Wisconsin Stat., Section 703.165, they can get a lien for just the attorney's fees.
A judge may consider the $600 excessive, depending on whether they can actually produce some evidence of what that entails. At the very least, they should be telling you the amount of time spent and the rate per hour so you know if they charged you $50 to do 12 hours work or $600 to do one hour's work.
If you have a property management company apart from the board, you can try talking to them, but they may not have access to the lawyer's bills.
The statute allows them to place a lien for any and all unpaid amounts as long as they do it within 2 years of when the amount became due. If you don't pay, they'll place the lien. You won't be able to get the lien removed without going to court and proving that you didn't owe the money.
Another option is to contact the attorney's office and see if they'll negotiate on the fee at all. Find out if they'll accept some amount less than $600. If you're going to do that, you can ask them to also provide a breakdown of the fee. (Again, they will charge you for this interaction, but it could help)
There are things you can do about it. Again, you can pay under protest and sue for a refund, you can ask them to give you a breakdown of what they're charging you for, or you can try to negotiate a settlement with them.
If they put a lien on your property, that could cause issues with the deed in lieu of foreclosure. The bank will probably make you pay off the lien before they'll close the deal.
Did you have any other questions about this?