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Lucy, Esq.
Lucy, Esq., Attorney
Category: Legal
Satisfied Customers: 29788
Experience:  Lawyer
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Looking for some help on a condo question. WI, not a this

Customer Question

Looking for some help on a condo question.
JA: What state are you in? It matters because laws vary by location.
Customer: WI
JA: Has anything been filed or reported?
Customer: not a this point.
JA: Anything else you want the lawyer to know before I connect you?
Customer: not particularly.
Submitted: 6 months ago.
Category: Legal
Expert:  Lucy, Esq. replied 6 months ago.

Hi,

I'm Lucy, and I'd be happy to answer your questions today.

What is your question?

Customer: replied 6 months ago.
Lucy - I own a condo, than is managed by a property management company. The condo dues are currently $215 and are due on the 15th of each month. This past year we had a special assessment added into the mix for $1500 due by January 1st 2017. Along with this letter on the assessment was the notice that if the assessment wasn't paid with 30 days of the due date, that I would be subjected to a $50 fine. I was late on my payment of the assessment, letter I received was post-marked on Jan 5th. Stating if I did not pay the assessment, the condo dues (which are not due yet), and now a $600 lawyer fee that was added onto this total, that they would put a lien on my property. Can they charge me this lawyer fee 5 days after a due date that has a 30 day window?
Expert:  Lucy, Esq. replied 6 months ago.

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?

Customer: replied 6 months ago.
no they did not. I am paying the assessment today.
Expert:  Lucy, Esq. replied 6 months ago.

Thank you.

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.

Customer: replied 6 months ago.
you do not think that just paying the assessment and the dues at this time is the quick and easy solution to make this go away?
Customer: replied 6 months ago.
go to the board on this matter, which would side-step the property management company? Do you think a judge would look at the 600 as excessive?
Expert:  Lucy, Esq. replied 6 months ago.

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.

Expert:  Lucy, Esq. replied 6 months ago.

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.

Customer: replied 6 months ago.
it is within their rights to write up a lien on this even though they put in this 30 day buffer with late fees?
Expert:  Lucy, Esq. replied 6 months ago.

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)

Customer: replied 6 months ago.
basically they can charge me whatever they want and there is nothing i can do about it.
Customer: replied 6 months ago.
I am currently going through the process of a deed in lieu on the property and I cannot have anything else hold it up.
Expert:  Lucy, Esq. replied 6 months ago.

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.

Expert:  Lucy, Esq. replied 6 months ago.

Did you have any other questions about this?