Homeowner Associations Start Foreclosures to Collect Dues

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IRVING, Texas -- Thousands of Americans who have generally kept up with their mortgages are still in danger of losing their homes because they made a fateful trade-off in this shaky economy: They let their homeowner association dues slide.
Many homeowners are learning to their surprise that condo and neighborhood associations that oversee security patrols, mow lawns, plant flowers and clean the community swimming pool might have the right to foreclose when dues

IRVING, Texas -- Thousands of Americans who have generally kept up with their mortgages are still in danger of losing their homes because they made a fateful trade-off in this shaky economy: They let their homeowner association dues slide.

Lacey Pilat, left, and her husband, Steven Pilat pose outside their home in Irving, Texas. The couple is among those who have been threatened with foreclosure after letting homeowners association dues slide.

Many homeowners are learning to their surprise that condo and neighborhood associations that oversee security patrols, mow lawns, plant flowers and clean the community swimming pool might have the right to foreclose when dues aren't paid. That right is often written into the purchase agreement signed by the homeowner.

"We have compassion for those folks," says Andrew Schlegel, executive vice president for Merit Property Management, which manages more than 140,000 California homes in community associations. "At the same time, we feel for the rest of the homeowners who are paying their dues."

Most people end up saving their homes. HOA boards often work with down-on-their-luck neighbors to come up with some sort of compromise. That's what happened with Lacey Pilat, who lost her job catering lavish corporate parties and nearly lost her two-story house in this Dallas suburb.

The management company for the Beacon Hill homeowner association sent Pilat a foreclosure notice in April after several attempts to collect her $450 annual dues, which paid for the mowing of front lawns. The amount she owed snowballed to $1,800 after penalties and fees. The company eventually agreed to let Pilat and her husband, Steve, pay the debt over time.

Gauging the number of foreclosures nationwide by HOAs is difficult. But in Texas, foreclosure attempts initiated by HOAs in 19 counties are up 30 percent from two years ago, according to Dallas-based Foreclosure Listing Services. In the San Antonio area alone, foreclosure actions by HOAs jumped to 170 in April from 21 in April 2008, RexReport.com says.

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In Florida, attorney Bob Tankel, who represents hundreds of homeowner and condo associations, says he has increased his staff from three to 16 in the past 18 months to handle a mounting caseload of 3,500 open collections. About one-fifth of those cases have reached foreclosure, he says.

In California, Schlegel says more than 6 percent of the homes that his company manages are in some stage of delinquency on membership dues, up from around 1 percent in previous years.

More than 59 million people live in more than 300,000 association-governed communities nationwide, according to the Community Associations Institute, the nation's largest group for homeowners and condo boards.

If the house is foreclosed on, it is sold, and the HOA takes what it is owed from the proceeds. Proceeds also go to the bank to pay off the mortgage.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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