Homeowners groups have legal duties

Mailbag

July 26, 1998

Dear Mr. Azrael:

I live in a fairly new community in Baltimore County. I have resided here since December 1995. It seems that the builder for this community has had quite a sordid past.

Since I have been here, there has not been an association of homeowners. According to my neighbors, there was [at one time] an association. Maintenance of the common areas has been taken care of by my fellow neighbors and myself. There is no snow removal unless [the residents do it]. And there is no formal group of association members or designated officers.

Now, suddenly I receive a document from the builder, stating I owe $336 in back association dues.

My question is, how legal is this, since there doesn't seem to be a community association and what would be your advice to me with regard to handling this matter?

-- Maureen Ruby

Dear Ms. Ruby:

When your subdivision was built, the developer created Homeowner's Association (HOA). The HOA is a corporation with a legal existence separate from the developer or builder. The HOA has responsibility to maintain common areas within the subdivision and to enforce recorded architectural controls and other restrictions on the use of property in the development.

By law, the owner of each home in the subdivision holds membership in the HOA. The HOA has bylaws and rules which provide for the members to meet and elect directors who are in charge of the affairs of the HOA.

The HOA has the power and duty to adopt an annual budget and to assess the members (you and other homeowners) to pay a monthly fee to cover the budgeted expenses.

When you bought your home, the seller was required to provide you with information about the HOA, including the fees imposed by the HOA on your lot and whether any HOA fees were then delinquent. The HOA also is required to deposit a copy of HOA disclosures with the clerk of court in the county where the subdivision is located. These disclosures are available to the public for viewing and for obtaining copies.

If an HOA fails to place the required disclosures in a depositary, then those disclosures which were not deposited shall be unenforceable until they are deposited.

As a member of the HOA, you are entitled, upon reasonable notice, to inspect and copy its budgets, minutes and financial books and records. All meetings of the HOA members are required to be open.

Based on your letter, it appears your HOA has not fulfilled its duty to maintain common areas and may not have been operating in accordance with its bylaws or Maryland law. I suggest you and your neighbors consider hiring a lawyer to determine if the assessments for past HOA dues is proper and to make sure the homeowners take control of their association.

Questions?

The Sun invites you to send real estate questions to Mailbag. Questions will be answered by Jonathan A. Azrael, principal at Azrael, Gann and Franz of Towson. Questions can be sent in the following ways:

Mailing address: Real Estate Mailbag, Fifth Floor, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore, Md., 21278-0001. Fax: 410-783-2517. E-mail: real.estataltsun.com

Our Sundial audio-response number: 410-783-1800. Enter code 6170 after the greeting.

Pub Date: 7/26/98

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