When the housing bubble burst in Florida, about 400,000 homeowners had their mortgages foreclosed on by the banks and lenders that held them. But now the banks are in trouble for not paying dues and other expenses on those repossessed properties. The homeowners and condo associations are now turning the tables on them.
The problem arises mostly from homeowner’s association fees, which the foreclosing entity becomes responsible for – this includes both back fees and fees from the time of repossession forward. But banks are failing to pay these fees. That puts more of a burden on the homeowners who are paying their fees, and leaves those HAs with not enough funds to take care of the properties. So these groups are putting liens on the properties, now owned by the banks, in an effort to make them pay up.
Miami attorney Ben Solomon says that his firm has filed 1,100 of these liens on behalf of the homeowners and HAs, and has pursued 131 of them to conclusion. In most of the cases, 90% or so, the banks settle by paying the fees.
What happens when the banks don’t pay the fees associated with the foreclosed homes? In places where homeowner associations handle things like security, water, garbage collection and routine maintenance, those services suffer. In one community, where JP Morgan Chase owes over $20,000 in fees, security has been scaled back and maintenance, including resurfacing roads, has been postponed. Another HA is looking for about $1 million in fees and has had to raise the fees to legitimate homeowners by $115 a year to cover the shortfall. The homeowners association has filed for foreclosure against Deutsche Bank, who has the lien on a home there and has not paid any fees for two-and-a-half years.
The banks claim that they don’t owe the fees, that they are merely trustees of the property. They say the companies which service the accounts are responsible for the fees. According to Mr. Solomon, however, banks are almost always the official holders of a foreclosed mortgage.
It’s rare for a bank to allow the property in question to go all the way to foreclosure against them, says Solomon. He has had it happen only once so far, in November of this year. The house was sold to a third party for $62,000 and the backlogged fees.