The sub-prime lending tsunami has rippled across the US economy, even reaching the Pacific Northwest condominium and homeowner association industry. Theoretically, an Association’s obligation to follow statutory and common law disclosure requirements should remain constant irrespective of whether the Dow Jones Industrial Average and housing market are soaring or slumping. However, practically speaking in a rising market when most everyone is making money, disclosures have been known to loosen; whereas, in a down market, disclosure statements are scoured over with heightened scrutiny. Whether the current stock market’s and housing market’s corrections have subsided or will continue indefinitely, mortgage underwriting requirements have tightened substantially for the foreseeable future. This change in the real estate marketplace requires association boards of directors to pay particularly close attention to: (a) disclosure requirements for condominium resale certificates (in Washington); (b) managing accounts receivable; (c) overseeing rental restrictions; and (d) following strict collections policies.
A. Condominium Resale Certificates
In Washington, under RCW 64.34.425, a condominium unit seller must provide a purchaser with a Resale Certificate that includes eighteen separate written disclosures. Now that the lending industry has shifted its condominium review from a “limited” to a “full” review, association boards must ensure each required item is completed to the greatest extent possible. Areas of particular concern in the current market environment involve pending litigation, pending or anticipated special assessments, a statement which shall be current to within 45 days of any common expenses or special assessments against any unit in the condominium that are past due over 30 days, a statement which shall be current to within 45 days of any obligation of the association which is past due over 30 days, a balance sheet and revenue/expense statement current to within 120 days, statement of any violations of the health or building codes, and history of any warranty claims made under a qualified warranty (if so provided). Although the number of condominium construction defect lawsuits has diminished over its peak earlier this decade, cases continue. In the limited time since the underwriting requirements stiffened and submission of this article, I have noted a significant rise in requests from lenders for clarification and supplemental information on resale certificates, especially disclosures related to construction defect lawsuits.
The statute is quite clear as to what must be disclosed in a condominium resale certificate. Although unit sales likely will be adversely affected to a degree not seen in recent memory due to construction defect lawsuits, significant special assessments or well underfunded reserves, condominium association boards should be aware of the heightened attention placed on these disclosures and should work closely with their professional manager and possibly legal counsel to provide accurate, thorough and comprehensive information.
B. Accounts Receivable
If a Planned Unit Development (“PUD”) or condominium homeowner association seeks a loan to fund a capital improvement, major repair project or other large capital expense, banks and other lending institutions will be paying closer attention to the financial statement of the association. A feature component of the statement is the number of units behind in assessments and aggregate amount of accounts receivable. Prior to the recent tightening of underwriting requirements, an association could get away with several owners whose accounts were past due without much adverse impact. Now, it appears an association may need to ensure it has a nominal balance in overdue accounts receivable, or at a minimum, ensure that foreclosure or collections proceedings have commenced on those accounts that are overdue.
Although an association should manage its finances and accounts receivable proactively and work to minimize overdue accounts regardless of lending requirements or trends in the marketplace, as stated previously, this area of an association’s finances could make the difference between qualifying for an association loan and being rejected.
C. Rental Restrictions
Many condominium and PUD homeowner associations have imposed rental caps in order to keep the number of non-owner-occupied homes below the percentage required by federal underwriting requirements. This ratio ordinarily hovers between seventy and eighty percent and varies depending upon size of loan, size of down payment and specific lending program (VA, FHA FNMA, etc.). With tighter lending requirements, to help preserve property values, obtain financing and improve overall credit scores, an association may wish to impose rental restrictions in addition to rental caps, including lease approval requirements (e.g., ensuring leases are submitted in compliance with the association’s procedural steps, if a lease renewal, confirm positive track record of the tenant and confirm that the lease adopts all of the association’s CC&R requirements) and tenant screening procedures (including having the owner/leasor conduct a consumer credit report, verification of the applicant’s employment and rental history, and conduct a public records check). A board also may wish to adopt heightened enforcement procedures that provide the association with rights to act directly against tenants who violate the CC&Rs.
D. Collection and Foreclosure Policies
Foreclosure rates in the Puget Sound region increased forty-two percent in 2007 from the previous year, with more than 1.8 million sub-prime mortgages scheduled to reset to higher interest rates across the country this year and next. With such a large number of foreclosures pending and forecast, many homeowner associations in the region likely will experience in the near term bank foreclosures within their communities. During the upward housing market, many associations were reluctant to commence foreclosure proceedings or money judgment actions against homeowners within their communities who became past due on assessments, at least until the balance grew to a large sum. With the current tightened market, it is recommended that an association adopt strict collection and foreclosure criteria and protocol, and follow those protocols consistently.
A homeowner association board of directors should take proactive steps and particular action to protect itself and its members from the legal risks associated with a down market. The steps described above may provide the general overview for such protections and help keep an association’s “head above water” in these turbulent times.