I'm Lucy, and I'd be happy to answer your questions today. I'm sorry to hear about your situation.
Unfortunately, yes, they can. Massachusetts law is EXTREMELY favorable to the homeowner's association. There is no legal defense to non-payment of fees. Blood v. Edgar's, Inc., 36 Mass. App. Ct. 402 (1994). Attorney's fees incurred in trying to collect payments owed become a lien on the unit, just like unpaid assessments. G. L. c. 183A, Section 6.
Even if you have no equity, they're allowed to foreclose on the unit, sell it, and get a judgment against you for the balance. They can also charge the attorney's fees and expenses for doing that to your account. It may seem counter-intuitive, since they don't get any money from selling the place - but it doesn't cost them anything, either. They're allowed to charge you with the full cost of taking your unit, in hopes that the person who purchases the unit won't fall behind on their common expenses. The law is really unfair to homeowners, but the idea is that HOAs can't function if people don't pay their fees, and the HOA has no way to pay legal fees since it's a not-for-profit organization, so everything is designed to encourage the unit owner to pay.
You have the ability to see if they will agree to some sort of payment schedule to give you time to make the payments before filing a lawsuit. That may be the best option for someone who doesn't have several thousand dollars lying around. In most cases, the HOA doesn't want to go to court any more than you do, so they might be willing to help work something out with you. You do have the ability to dispute any legal fees that are unnecessary or that they overcharged, but every time you call the lawyers, the money is tacked onto what they're going to try to collect from you. If at all possible, you may benefit from looking for a way to pay first, and then sue for a refund later.
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