Buying a foreclosure: You may be liable for old fees

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Q: I just bought a foreclosed property in Florida. The HOA has the home rented, and it says I owe $13K in fees from the previous owner. What can I do? I assume the rent being collected goes toward the fees.

A: Florida law unfortunately allows a homeowners' association (HOA) to collect past due fees from a new owner who purchases a unit. (Florida Stat., Section 720.3085) The statute allows you to sue the prior owner for any amounts that you're required to pay the HOA for his unpaid assessments. However, if you're not able to pay, the association can place a lien on your property and foreclose again. The law is very, very favorable to homeowner associations.

You cannot necessarily assume that the rent being received is going toward the past due expenses. The association is the legal owner of the property, and they are allowed to rent it out. The statute does not require them to apply rental payments toward past due assessments (and they could also be applying it toward the costs/fees associated with the foreclosure action). You do have the right to ask for an accounting, showing all of the amounts owed on the unit. If any of the amounts are incorrect, you can try to negotiate or fix it. But the law so strongly favors the association that is often in a unit owner's best interests to pay amounts assessed first, and then dispute them. That can help avoid having to pay tens of thousands of dollars in the association's attorney's fees, on top of everything else.

-- Answer from Lucy in Boston, a laywer on JustAnswer.

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