Estoppels, which are most commonly known as Homeowners’ Association (HOA) dues letters or certificates in other states, are a necessary part of closing on a home in an HOA in Florida, and they can be a huge pain to retrieve in a timely and affordable manner. Real estate and title agents have longed for a way to reel in the management companies that charge hundreds of dollars for preparing simple documentation on current and outstanding assessments owed to condo and homeowner’s associations.
In this blog post, we’ll explore what to expect when ordering estoppel letters in Florida and provide insights and tips to help title agents navigate the process effectively.
How Are Estoppels Regulated in Florida?
As of July 8th, 2022, the DBPR has reissued a new estoppel fee structure for the maximum amount an association, or its authorized agent, may charge for the preparation and delivery of an estoppel certificate.
- Standard Estoppel is now capped at $299
- Rush Fee is now capped at $119
- The delinquent fee is now capped at $179
A copy of the fee adjustments can be found here.
The Cap of Fees
The new law caps the fee for an association dues letter or certification request at $299. However, some management companies are adding on mysterious “online misc” fees of anywhere from $5-50. Additionally, if there are delinquent amounts owed, the association may charge an additional max fee of $179 for that information. A “delinquent amount” could be as low as a dollar.
There is also a $119 fee for “expedited” requests.
All in all, the law requires a maximum of $500 for an expedited, delinquent estoppel certificate from just one association. The unfortunate side effect of this required cap has been that management companies that didn’t previously have exorbitant fees are now raising their prices. One company is now charging the full price for documents simply stating if there is a pass-through from a sub-association to the master association when this information was given at no charge before the law took effect.
The Turnaround Times
An estoppel letter must be electronically delivered within 10 days of the request or the association must refund the amount as well as deliver the estoppel letter. The only problem is that many management companies cash the check upon receiving it. The management company will often point fingers at the association and vice versa when a requester calls about the entitled refund. This runaround can be a huge headache for a title agent when the deadline for a closing is fast approaching. Fortunately, our analysts are trained to deal with these kinds of issues and deliver the information as quickly as possible.
The Required Information
So far, this has been the one area with the least issues for our analysts. Most management companies and associations have typically included all information valid for 30 days despite there being one or two that refuse to include an itemized list of special assessments, capital contributions, etc.
Some of the information required in the Florida HOA certificate are:
- The regular periodic assessments levied against the property
- What date the regular periodic assessment is paid through
- When the next installment is due and the amount
- An itemized list of any additional assessments, special assessments, and other moneys that are scheduled to become due
- If there is a capital contribution fee, resale fee, transfer fee, or other fees due and the amount
- If there are any open violations
- If there is buyer approval required by the board of directors of the association
- If there is right of first refusal and if so, has the association exercised that right
- A list of contact information for all other associations of which the property is a member
- Contact information for all insurance maintained by the association
Requesting a Refund
If a real estate deal falls through, the association, by law, is required to refund the initial fee paid for the HOA letter. Unfortunately, many associations think they can skirt this law and avoid refunding the fee in this situation. We took a management company to court over the matter of a refund and won.
However, someone still has to foot the bill for the estoppel. This means that while the title agent is eventually compensated for floating the fees of the estoppel, the seller is still stuck with the cost.
Real estate agents and title agents should be sure to explain this caveat to their clients as we’ve heard from some rather disgruntled sellers about feeling snubbed by the process.
This is one more thing to add to the list of what every homebuyer should know before making a deal on a property in an HOA.
Retrieving a Condo or HOA dues letter is an imperative part of the title commitment and real estate due diligence. Let us know what your experience with requesting association certificates has been like since the law was passed. If you’re looking for any additional support for your closings, we’re here as a due diligence partner so you can focus on your clients and their closing while we deal with any issues that arise from requesting association letters or certificates.
Problems You May Encounter
In some cases, a property may be governed by multiple HOAs or COAs, each with their own estoppel letter requirements and fees. This can make the process more complicated and time-consuming.
In such cases, a title agent will need to obtain estoppel letters from each of the HOAs involved.
They first need to determine which HOAs govern the property, and then contact each one to request an estoppel letter. The title agent would need to provide the necessary information, such as the property address and the name of the seller or owner, to each HOA.
Each HOA would then provide an estoppel letter that outlines any outstanding debts or liens associated with the property under its governance. The title agent will review each estoppel letter to ensure accuracy and completeness.
As previously mentioned, each HOA may have its own requirements and fees for providing estoppel letters. Title agents will need to be familiar with the requirements of each HOA and ensure that all fees are paid in a timely manner.
Seasoned title professionals know how difficult tracking down governing associations for a property can be.
Regardless if it’s a condo owner’s association or homeowner’s association, this is a common problem, especially with the fast-paced development in hot housing markets like Florida, New York, Texas, and California.
It’s not uncommon to see properties that are governed by 4 associations or more 😲.
For example, there is a property in Celebration, Florida, that we have encountered that is part of a condominium association, and the property owner’s association, and a residential association, and to top it off there is also a foundation–that’s 4 separate associations–all of which require assessments or contributions of some kind. Missing any of them can lead to a messy liability issue and cost thousands of dollars.
What adds to the challenge is that each association may not have any idea that the other one even exists. Title agents can call an HOA or COA representative and they will have no idea about any of the other associations that the buyer is required to pay dues to.
A dissolved HOA is an HOA that has ceased to exist or has been terminated, either voluntarily or involuntarily, by a court or state agency. This can occur for a variety of reasons, such as failure to comply with legal requirements, financial insolvency, or a vote by the members to dissolve the HOA.
Dissolved HOAs can have significant impacts on real estate transactions, as they can affect the legal status and obligations of the property. Some of the ways in which a dissolved HOA can affect a real estate transaction include:
- Title Issues: A dissolved HOA can create title issues that may need to be resolved before the property can be sold or transferred. For example, if the HOA had a lien on the property, the lien may need to be released or satisfied before the transaction can proceed.
- Financing Issues: If the property is subject to a mortgage, the lender may require proof of an active HOA as a condition of the loan. A dissolved HOA can create complications or delays in obtaining financing or may even cause the lender to decline the loan.
It is important to proceed with caution and take appropriate steps to ensure that all legal requirements are met. Here are some steps that a title professional should consider taking:
- Verify the Status of the HOA: The title professional should confirm that the HOA is indeed dissolved by checking with the relevant state agency responsible for registering and regulating HOAs. If the HOA has been dissolved, the title professional should request any official documentation confirming its status.
- Review the Governing Documents: The title professional should review the governing documents for the property to determine if there are any provisions that require the existence of an HOA. If there are such provisions, the title professional should consider consulting with an attorney to determine the legal implications of the dissolved HOA.
- Evaluate the Impact on the Transaction: The title professional should assess the impact of the dissolved HOA on the real estate transaction. For example, if the property is subject to a mortgage, the lender may require proof of an active HOA. In this case, the title professional may need to work with the parties involved to find a solution that satisfies the lender’s requirements.
- Disclose the Information: The title professional should disclose the status of the dissolved HOA to all parties involved in the transaction, including the buyer, seller, and lender. It is important to ensure that all parties have accurate and complete information about the property.
- Seek Legal Advice: If there are any legal questions or concerns related to the dissolved HOA, the title professional should seek advice from an attorney who is knowledgeable in real estate and HOA law.
Overall, encountering a dissolved HOA can add complexity to a real estate transaction. It is important for the title professional to proceed with caution, seek advice from experts, and ensure that all parties involved have accurate and complete information about the property.
Changes in Information
If there are any changes to the information in the estoppel letter between the time it is ordered and the time of closing, it will need to be updated to reflect the most current information, which can cause further delays. This is necessary to avoid any potential legal disputes or issues that may arise from discrepancies between the estoppel letter and the actual state of the property.
A title agent will need to contact the HOA or COA (Condo Owner Association) to request an updated estoppel letter. The HOA or COA would then provide an updated estoppel letter that reflects the most current information. Once the estoppel letter is received, you will review it to ensure that it is accurate and complete. If there are any errors or omissions, you may need to contact the HOA or COA to request corrections.
Overall, it is important to keep the estoppel letter up-to-date throughout the real estate transaction process to ensure that all parties have accurate and complete information about any outstanding debts or liens associated with the property. Working with experienced professionals can help ensure that any changes to the information in the estoppel letter are handled efficiently and effectively.
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