A Complete Guide to Special Assessments

December 14, 2020

Many condominium corporations effectively plan for the future and prepare for costs associated with typical maintenance and replacements. However, when a major repair or capital improvement project is needed, those that don’t have adequate funds set aside may have reasons to worry. If this happens, or the association faces a significant unforeseen expense, a special assessment might be required. Read on to learn about special assessments, how to avoid them, and more.

What’s a Condominium Corporation Assessment?

Assessments are fees that all owners are legally required to pay. Depending on the governing documents and procedures, they can be collected annually, quarterly, or monthly.

These fees are the primary source of income for condominium corporations and are used to ensure the corporation can successfully perform the various duties and tasks for which it’s responsible. What common element fees cover depends on the community, but typically, this money is used to pay for repairs, maintenance, administration, and reserve funds for future repairs and improvements.

What’s a Special Assessment?

Occasionally, corporations need money in excess of the funds raised by regular assessments to pay for unexpected costs. When this happens, the corporation has the power to levy a one-time or short-term special assessment to cover the additional costs.

What Do Special Assessments Pay For? 

While many communities do plan ahead, some don’t prepare for large-scale repairs and capital improvement projects. Special assessments should only be used to pay for unanticipated items or expenses not considered in the corporation’s reserve fund. The following are examples of major expenses that may require a special assessment:

  • Replacement of siding
  • Private roads
  • Roofing
  • Addition of community tennis courts or swimming pools
  • Addition or replacement of access gates

How are Special Assessments Calculated?

Special assessments are almost always tied to direct costs. How a condo divides that will be in accordance with the governing documents.

Tips for Communicating Special Assessments

It’s no surprise that special assessments aren’t typically popular with homeowners. Fortunately, there are steps that boards can take to eliminate a bit of the pressure of the payment and process, including:

1. BE SENSITIVE.

Not all homeowners are in the same situation. Board members must be sensitive and recognize that a special assessment may cause more financial hardship on some than others. While everyone must be treated equally, the board may be able to handle certain situations on a case-by-case basis and provide payment plans or another alternative. Check the community’s governing documents for additional information. 

2. GIVE NOTICE.

Homeowners are more likely to resist or be suspicious if they feel blind-sided by a special assessment. Always offer time to react, be transparent about the condominium’s financial health, and keep homeowners in the loop regarding a potential assessment.

3. HOLD A MEETING.

If possible, the board should hold a specific meeting before adopting a special assessment. Doing this will give the board members time to explain the decision and allow homeowners to propose recommendations and give feedback. 

4. BRING IN THE PROFESSIONALS.

Ensure your condominium’s experts and professional partners are at the meeting to answer questions and support the board’s recommendation. Their presence will help alleviate tension and reassure homeowners that a special assessment is in the community’s best interest.

How to Avoid Special Assessments

The board of directors has a fiduciary duty to create a budget that will cover all expenses—a special assessment shouldn’t be an excuse for inefficient budgeting. Special assessments can typically be avoided if proper long-term plans are in place and adequate reserve funds are set aside. To learn more about reserve funds and studies, check out our ebook, “8 Essential Things You Need to Know About Reserve Funds & Studies.” In it, we break down the eight most commonly asked questions and provide helpful tips and insight from experienced community and reserve study experts. 

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