When you are considering whether to purchase a house in an homeowners association or a condominium unit, besides the location, location, location of the property, the next big indicators of whether the property will work for you is how much the property will cost you initially and whether there are additional fees that you should expect to pay. Where we obtain this financial information has been dictated by Washington statutes, but in a manner that leaves quite a bit to be desired.
The Washington legislature has prepared a format for disclosure of these issues by sellers of real estate in RCW 64.06.020. Part of that section, entitled Improved residential real property–Seller’s duty–Format of disclosure statement–Minimum information, lists the following:
6. HOMEOWNERS’ ASSOCIATION/COMMON INTERESTS
* * *
B. Are there regular periodic assessments:
$… per [ ] Month [ ] Year [ ]
*C. Are there any pending special assessments?
The state legislature has also dictated that associations governing condominiums, pursuant to RCW 64.34, and associations governing common interest ownership units, pursuant to RCW 64.90, must provide to buyers of previously owned units or homes a Resale Certificate, containing the following:
* * *
(b) With respect to the selling unit owner’s unit, a statement setting forth the amount of any assessment currently due, any delinquent assessments, and a statement of any special assessments that have been levied and have not been paid even though not yet due;
RCW 64.90.640. Emphasis Added.
The Resale Certificate language, “a statement of any special assessments that have been levied and have not been paid even though not yet due” is specific regarding special assessments that have actually been levied by the association, but have not been paid by the members. However, this language does not require the association Board or its agent to disclose repair projects that are in the process of being developed or planned, but have not quite yet been levied.
The Seller Disclosure Statement language, “[a]re there any pending special assessments?”, is just plain ambiguous. This question leaves a seller with the need to determine whether “pending” means whether the special assessment is upcoming or currently levied.
So, how can we avoid the uncertainty of language that is unclear? The simple answer is to ask a lot of follow up questions and request more than the minimum number of board meeting minutes and membership meeting minutes that are supplied to you. If you review the meeting minutes and ask pointed questions regarding the planning, or lack of planning, that is going on related to the big ticket repair items in an association, you should be able to avoid the very unpleasant surprise of a special assessment that you were not planning for. Ask what the association’s timeline is for repair and maintenance of common roofs, building siding, and/or private roads.
Make sure you understand the quality of your potential new home and community, and not just its address, to avoid unwanted financial surprises!