Q&A: Money for Nothing?

Money for Nothing?

Q There have been two charges that "just appeared" on my maintenance statement—small amounts of money...BUT without prior notice and they were just tacked on. One was for a parking increase and one was for "mailing outside of address." When I inquired of management about this, I was told it was for mailing the statement to me for the year. But the fee was for $15, surely not reflective of postage. My question is: Can they just tack on fees without letting you know ahead of time? Management says they disagree and it was the board’s decision. I wrote the board president and he’s never replied. It's a small monetary matter, but it irks me. Is this legal?

—Irked in Sunny Isles

A “You have asked about the legality of the association or its management company levying additional charges on your statement which had not been previously disclosed. It is certainly not proper to charge an owner for a postage fee on his statement,” says Rosa de la Camara, a shareholder attorney at the law firm of Becker & Poliakoff in Coral Gables. “If it is a fee being charged by the association, such costs should be factored into the association’s annual budget and should not be charged separately. If it is a fee charged by the management company, they also have no right to charge you directly as you have not signed a contract with them nor agreed to absorb their mailing costs. Associations are limited by the Florida Condominium Act, Chapter 718 Florida Statutes, and by their governing documents on what fees they can charge. For instance, a condominium association can charge interest for an overdue assessment payment or a fine for a violation of the governing documents because these are authorized by statute. However, “extra” charges that are not contemplated in the statute nor the governing documents are not legally collectible. I suspect there is nothing in the Declaration which provides the association with the authority to collect extra administrative charges, nor is there any authority in the Condominium Act.

“With regard to the parking fee, I would ask whether your governing documents allow the association to charge such a fee. If so, was the parking fee increase adopted in the annual budget and was it approved by the board at a duly-called meeting? If it was included in the proposed budget which is mailed to owners, this is deemed notice to the owners of costs to be imposed as common expenses. Management cannot impose or increase a fee to condominium owners on its own. All fees must be approved by the board of directors, must be sanctioned by statute or the governing documents and must be approved at a duly-called board meeting. If not properly adopted by the board or if unilaterally imposed by management, both these fees appear to not be legitimate and should be disputed.”