Money Talks Communicating About Co-op/Condo Finances

Money Talks

Imagine sitting down with your significant other to pay the monthly bills. You both put your checks into a joint account and know how much there is to take care of expenses, or so you think. Out of his wallet your husband pulls out receipts for a new suit, dinner with his friends and a new part for the beat up old Chevy he’s rebuilding. You add receipts for a manicure, a brand new red dress that’s hanging in your closet and the liquid lunch that you had with your pals from work. Both of you look at the pile, each upset that the other wasn’t notified about all the extra spending, and wondering how you’re going to cover your household bills now.

Money—and the spending of it—is a topic that some people are very skittish about discussing, but when you’re a board member or the property manager of a residential co-op or condo building however, there’s no benefit to skirting financial realities just because they may be difficult or contentious.

Tell All?

What information the board shares about the building’s financial information depends partly on how it's traditionally been handled in the building or HOA. Finances are one of the biggest components of a community's well-being, so naturally residents want to make sure the board is meeting their financial obligations. “You want to be open to them with annual financial statements,” says one management professional, “and letters that explain when a board decides to increase the maintenance or do an assessment.”

Not only do condo community residents like administrative transparency in their associations, Florida law actually demands it. According to the Florida State Attorney General’s Office website, “Florida began its tradition of openness back in 1909 with the passage of Chapter 119 of the Florida Statutes or the 'Public Records Law.' This law provides that any records made or received by any public agency in the course of its official business are available for inspection, unless specifically exempted by the Florida Legislature. Florida's Government-in-the-Sunshine Law was enacted in 1967. Today, the 'Sunshine Law' establishes a basic right of access to most meetings of boards, commissions and other governing bodies of state and local governmental agencies or authorities.”

“Under Florida law, community associations have to be open to their owners with regards to the operations of the community,” says Michael Hyman, an attorney and shareholder with the law firm of Siegfried, Rivera, Hyman, Lerner, De La Torre, Mars & Sobel, LLP in Coral Gables. “Every owner has a right to understand how their community government is operating.”

Each month, a financial report should be generated to give the residents and the board an idea of where the building is at from a monetary standpoint. This report compares where the budget is to where it should be. In addition, it also has a listing of all the bills that were paid and the monies that were collected. In other words, anything financial that has happened that month should be in the report.

But while it's understandable that a board might not want to have non-board residents peering over their shoulder at every single nickel and dime, being opaque about finances is not the solution. “I’m puzzled when I see a board that is keeping things really close to the vest. I see it fairly often and I find it a little disturbing,” says Christine E. Evans, CMCA, PCAM and regional vice president at Associa, Inc. in Florida.

“Minimally, I feel like there should be something that an owner can get at any given point that says what we’ve spent and what was taken in. I think that maybe because board members are volunteers, they may be a little concerned about the depth of questions from particular unit owners that might have more financial knowledge than they do. They might be asked questions they don’t know the answers to and they don’t want to give the impression that they are not in control.”

A Team of Experts

Most management teams utilize the services of a certified public accountant (CPA) or an accounting firm to complete audits, reviews, budgets and more on a monthly, quarterly or annual basis.     

Edna Sue Tully-Davis, a CPA in Wesley Chapel, finds the responsibility for creating an annual budget generally falls to the association’s president, secretary, and treasurer, with input and assistance from the accountant and attorney. “The board treasurer will usually work the hardest on preparing a budget for approval,” she explains.

“The independent accountant or auditor is able to be called in as an expert with no personal agenda and if they are experienced in the community association industry, they will usually be able to explain some difficult financial issues such as inter-fund payables and receivables, transfers between funds, trending over the years, how the association compares to others in their area, as well as over several years,” says Brad L. Schneider, CPA and president of CondoCPA, Inc., which has offices in Sarasota, Orlando and Tampa.

“When a special assessment is warranted, I have seen some board members explain why it is necessary, as well as the payment options to the unit owners attending the board meeting, with a Power Point presentation.”

“When a special assessment is warranted, I have seen some board members explain why it is necessary, as well as the payment options to the unit owners attending the board meeting, with a Power Point presentation.”


Again, it's important to exercise good judgment when it comes to what should be transparent and disclosed versus which financial matters should be kept confidential. A resident who's in arrears on their condo fees, for example, should not have that information disclosed to anyone not on the board, or not acting in a professional capacity in service to the board, such as an attorney. In addition, private personnel records of association employees may also be off-limits to non-board personnel.

However, it’s common that there may be a unit owner who is going through a rough patch in his life or other shareholders who are struggling and haven’t paid their fees because they lost their job or have been ill. For example, If Mr. and Mrs. Smith are behind on paying their maintenance fees for whatever reason, should the other owners know? “Delinquencies should not be discussed with anyone but the person who is delinquent,” adds Evans. “The exception may be the employees of the management company who has to deal with accounts receivable.”

Some financial and management pros will consider setting up a reasonable payment plan with the resident in arrears. Often however there's no choice but to start non-payment proceedings. When that does happen, “I wouldn’t disclose arrears information to another non-board resident unless it comes to a point where a foreclosure on a unit with legal action is absolutely necessary,” says one manager. “I would respect the owner’s confidentiality whenever possible.”

“Almost all money transactions can be discussed in an open board meeting, but personal information about employees should be discussed in a closed session,” says Schneider. Also, specific unit owner delinquencies and board actions may be reserved for a closed meeting if it includes specific details of the personal finances of the unit owner.”

Be Honest About Repairs and Reserves

Be honest about your overall budget. A community still can descend into insolvency if the association doesn’t stay on top of repairs, raise assessments as needed to cover expenses, properly fund the reserves, move promptly to collect past-due assessments and fees, and build such delinquencies into the budget so they don’t result in a shortfall.

"Even in good times you'll have three to five percent average delinquency," says Allen Baum, AMS, PCAM, a veteran property manager that has managed HOA communities in Florida, Texas and Arizona.

“The most common reasons for an association to slide into problems are that boards don’t want to raise the assessment, and aren’t aggressively going after people who stop paying. Some boards take pride in not raising the assessment. They think their goal is to keep assessments low as opposed to maintaining the property, even if the building hasn’t been painted in 10 years, the bushes are dying and not being replaced, and the pool furniture is broken. When they don’t raise the annual assessment adequately, you’ll see a special assessment here and another there to do the maintenance they haven’t been doing.”

Postponing necessary repairs is inadvisable, experts say. If the board doesn’t make decisions to increase the maintenance or pass a special assessment, when whatever equipment or operating system finally fails, it causes a lot more damage than if you repaired it in the first place.

Fair Share

The purpose of an annual resident meeting is to adopt the budget, and includes a presentation of the CPA's annual report. The unit owner or shareholder meeting may, or may not, be open to all building members but be aware that some members may come to the meeting with their own agenda.

In a co-op or condo, everyone shares the cost of the common areas and if someone doesn’t meet their financial obligations everyone has to bear the brunt of it. When a building’s financials go from bad to worse, the professionals agree that full disclosure to the unit owners is necessary. There should be a balanced budget, and if there isn’t, it’s important to let the unit owners know.

Even after the board notifies the unit owners in writing of financial turmoil, a formal meeting with residents may still be necessary, says Robert L. Kaye, managing member of the law firm of Kaye Bender Rembaum in Pompano Beach. “A good board always looks for ways to establish and improve communication with its residents—both to and from the owners.”    

Lisa Iannucci is a freelance writer and a frequent contributor to The Western & Central Florida Cooperator. Freelance writer Christy Smith-Sloman contributed to this article.