Fiduciary Obligation to Collect Assessments, Use of the Forcible Entry and Detainer Act and its Impact upon Associations
While few take pleasure in pursuing their neighbors, friends, colleagues, etc. for the collection of assessments, associations and their duly elected board members are charged with the duty of doing just that. By volunteering to become a board member of your association, you are submitting yourself to be held to a high legal standard; the standard of being a fiduciary. Individuals who fill fiduciary capacities such as attorneys, accountants and association board members are charged with the highest, most stringent duties under the law.
A fiduciary must always put the interest of his or her constituency above his or her own interests and must always make decisions based upon what he or she believes is in the best interest of the community as a whole, not just a select few. Playing favorites is not an option. To that end, making decisions in a fiduciary capacity requires difficult and sometimes uncomfortable or unpopular decisions. One such decision charged to all board members in the State of Illinois is how and when to pursue a delinquent owner for past due assessments. The balance of the community, those owners who pay their assessments in a timely fashion, must have the trust and faith in their board members that the association is not asking them to carry the load for those who choose not to pay. Thankfully, in the State of Illinois, associations have an option for the collection of assessments that is superior to all others, and when used will reduce an association’s overall delinquency rate, the Forcible Entry and Detainer Act.
Forcible Entry and Detainer
Associations in Illinois may use the Forcible Entry and Detainer Act, or the “eviction statute” to collect delinquent assessments. Associations using the Forcible Act to collect assessments initiate collection by the service of a 30-day demand letter. The 30-day demand letter must be sent, by certified mail, to the owner at the unit, or to the owner’s off-site address, if an off-site address has been provided. The owner does not need to pick-up or sign for the 30-day demand letter. As long as the association is able to demonstrate that the demand letter was sent by certified mail to either the unit or the off-site address, no further notice is required and the owner has 30 days from the date of the letter to pay the delinquency. If the owner brings the account current within the 30 days, no further action can be taken. However, if the owner fails to pay any amount or if the owner makes a partial payment within 30 days, the Association is vested with the authority to file an eviction action against the owner in an attempt to collect all past due amounts.
If suit is filed under the Forcible Act the association will be asking a court to award it all past due assessments, attorney’s fees and court costs. Additionally, the association will be asking a court to award it possession of the owner’s unit, i.e. to evict the owner for non-payment. If an owner does not pay his or her share of the assessments and if the association is awarded possession of the unit, the owner will be afforded between 60 and 180 days, as fixed by the court, to pay the delinquency from the date of judgment (known as the “stay” period). After expiration of stay, if the owner has not cured the delinquency, the association is authorized to schedule an eviction with the county sheriff. If an eviction is completed, the owner loses the right to live in the unit, but not ownership of the unit. At this point the association can place a renter in the unit and apply all rental payments received toward the owner’s past due balance. In addition to the past due assessments, attorney’s fees, late fees and court costs, the costs incurred in making the unit rentable, such as repair costs and broker’s fees may also be recouped through rental payments. Keep in mind that leases with tenants are not unlimited in time and once the delinquency has been paid, the owner has the right to petition the court to regain possession the unit.
The Impact upon the Association
As you would expect, the number of completed evictions is relatively small in relation to the total number of cases filed to collect past due assessments. The possibility of losing the right to live in the owner’s home provides a great incentive for the delinquent owner to become current. If however, an owner does not pay and an eviction is completed, the impact upon an association as a whole can also be substantial, in a positive way. Once owners realize that the obligation to pay assessments is real and that the association’s rights to compel payment are substantial, the incentive to avoid the embarrassment of an eviction takes over. The end result of using the Forcible Act is often a reduction in an association’s overall delinquency rate and an association budget that on an annual basis sees no increase or a minimal increase in the owners’ assessment obligation.