Owning a condominium unit comes with its own unique set of homeownership costs. As a unit owner, you'll pay monthly assessments to the condominium's association. The association manages the development and uses the annual assessment money it collects from all unit owners to pay for routine maintenance and repairs. If your association doesn't have enough money to cover necessary maintenance or repair projects from the monthly assessments, you may have to pay a special assessment.
A condominium association should have a reserve fund. The money in the reserve account is intended to cover unexpected expenses, such as roof replacement from storm damage, major building repairs and unforeseen maintenance costs. Money for the reserve is raised through the association's monthly assessments -- it is treated as a line item on the budget similar to other maintenance items such as landscaping and insurance. Sometimes an association's reserve fund is too low or simply can't weather the price of an unexpected major project. In these cases, the association levies a special assessment on unit owners to cover the cost.
The special assessment amount depends on the project cost, as calculated by estimates from professional contractors, and is divided among unit owners. The association must use the special assessment funds for the purpose stated in the resolution it passed authorizing the special assessment. If there's excess money remaining after the project is completed, the association's bylaws determine whether the unit owners receive it or it becomes part of the association's general fund. Unit owners should receive written notice of a special assessment which states its purpose and their share of the cost.
The association's bylaws and state laws set the rules for the adoption of special assessments and what rights unit owners have. An association may have to notify all unit owners of a meeting to adopt a special assessment, but usually only members of the condo's board of managers vote on it. Unit owners may have the right to petition the board to reject a special assessment over a specific amount or vote on nonemergency special assessments. Rejection rights usually don't apply to assessments for projects necessary for the health and safety of unit owners. For example, unit owners may have a say in a special assessment to add a pool but not for one to repair a sagging roof.
Special assessment payment is handled by the condo's association, as defined in its bylaws. Some will demand payment in full while others offer payment plans spread out over months or even years. Unit owners who pay in full upfront when a payment plan is offered may receive a discount for doing so under the association's policies. The association may reach out to local lenders to help connect unit owners who need loans to pay the assessment with financing. The association may take out a loan itself to cover the immediate cost of the project while recovering money from the owners over time.
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