We often hear homeowners, and sometimes board members and managers, interchange “dues,” “fines,” and “assessments.” This inadvertent transposing of terms should raise eyebrows, as there are important legal distinctions between the words.
“Dues” is defined as “a regular fee or charge payable at specific intervals.” Consequently, some people think that community associations impose monthly, quarterly or annual “dues.” However, you won’t find the term “dues” anywhere in a condominium or homeowner association declaration. Instead, the declaration will refer to authority of the association to impose regular “assessments” upon owners for their share of common expenses. Some declarations also describe and define “special assessments” as other than regular assessments imposed upon homeowners for unusual or unplanned common expenses.
“Fines” are often assessed against owners who violate one or more covenants, restrictions or rules. Following adherence to proper due process protocols (often requiring a hearing or other opportunity to be heard), assuming the violation is upheld, the fine turns into an “assessment” owed to the association.
Thus, an “assessment” that arises from a CC&R violation has the exact same legal weight and meaning as a regular or special “assessment.”
It is important to distinguish between the different terms because under both Oregon and Washington law, condominium associations have automatic, stautory lien rights that attach to a unit for any “unpaid assessments.” The same is true in Oregon for homeowner associations under the Planned Community Act (ORS 94.709). Though the Washington Homeowners Association Act does not provide for statutory lien rights, most HOA declarations include such a provision.
In summary, Oregon and Washington community association have enhanced lien rights for unpaid “assessments.” When describing amounts owed to an association, to get the most “bang for your buck,” make sure you are using the right term.
If you have specific questions, please feel free to contact me at www.barkermartin.com.