Question: I read one of your recent blogs on the levy of fines by associations. Do the same “due process” requirements apply to collecting attorney’s fees from a unit owner? J.M. (via e-mail)
Answer: No. The Florida statutes applicable to condominiums, cooperatives, and homeowners’ associations state that an association cannot levy and collect a fine unless notice is first given that a fine is sought to be imposed and an opportunity for hearing is provided before a committee of non-board members upon no less than fourteen days’ notice. The “fining committee” basically has the right to “veto” a board decision to levy a fine.
Attorney’s fees are generally not collectible from an owner unless awarded by a court. One exception involves the collection of unpaid assessments. Under the applicable statutes and most governing documents, pre-litigation attorney’s fees incurred in collecting delinquent assessments are added to the amounts due. Further, under the “application of payments” provisions of the statutes, payments made on delinquent accounts are applied to attorney’s fees before the principal amount due.
There is no legal right to a hearing to determine whether or not the attorney’s fees are owed, the obligation is imposed by statute. If the fees are unreasonable, or if the account was not in fact delinquent, you would have the right to withhold payment, but would have to contest the propriety of the fees in court, with substantial exposure (including lien foreclosure and more attorney’s fees) if you lost your argument.