“Ask Your Attorney” Column
About Addressing Delinquent Condominium Assessments
Dear Counselor: I am a member of my condominium association’s board of directors. Unfortunately, our condominium building is home to several problem owners who take a “whenever I get to it” attitude towards assessment payments. In the past, we’ve let this behavior slide. But now, several of the owners are many months behind, and the recent deep freeze and heavy snows have put a strain on our maintenance budget. We need to send these owners a message with some teeth — what can we do?
Dear Client: I’m glad you and the association have decided to take a more diligent approach to assessment collection, and fortunately, the Wisconsin legislature has provided you with some powerful tools for making sure the owners pay those back assessments. Assessments levied by a condominium association aren’t just the obligation of the delinquent owner; they actually constitute a lien against the unit itself. That lien can be enforced just like a mortgage lien, meaning you can ultimately foreclose on it, so long as you follow the proper procedures. First, file a Statement of Lien (using the legislature’s prescribed form) in the circuit court in the county in which your condominium is located. (Note that all unpaid assessments that became due during the two-year period prior to the filing of the Statement of Lien will be subject to the association’s lien.) Then, the association can file a lawsuit to recover a money judgment from a unit owner, including costs and attorneys’ fees, without waiving its lien interest. As a last resort, within three years of filing the Statement of Lien, and after giving 10 days’ notice to a unit owner, the association can file a suit to foreclose on its lien, meaning the unit can be sold at auction in order to satisfy the unpaid assessments, costs, and fees.
No one wants this result though — so start by filing your Statement of Lien, coupled with sending a friendly but strongly-worded letter to the problem owners letting them know you know your rights, and the days of loosey-goosey assessment collection are over.
John L. Maier, Jr.