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Condo | HOA Lawyers

Owner Liable for Prior Owners Assessments – Who Knew?

Summary

In Florida, mere ownership of a condominium makes you liable for all assessments which come due while you are an owner AND all assessments of previous owners.

The Facts

Defendant, Fla Trust Services, bought the condominium in question on July 26, 2016 by quit claim deed. The seller was Homes HQ, LLC who had bought it on June 13, 2016 at a judicial sale held as a result of a final judgment of foreclosure obtained by JPMorgan Chase Bank, NA. After Defendant took ownership, the plaintiff association filed suit based on a lien foreclosure and for damages. The parties agreed that the sole issue was whether the was Defendant liable for unpaid assessments back to June 13, 2016 or back to 2007, when the purchasers bought the condominium. The relevant law (Fl. Stat. Section 718.116(1)(a)) reads as follows:

“A unit owner… is liable for all assessment which come due while he or she is the unit owner. Additionally, a unit owner is jointly and severally liable with the previous owners for all unpaid assessments that came due up to the time of transfer of title…. A present unit owner’s liability for unpaid assessments is limited to any unpaid assessments that accrued before the association acquired title to the delinquent property through foreclosure or by deed in lieu of foreclosure.”

Trial Court

Followed an existing line of cases that essentially held that “the previous owner” means the immediately previous owner and therefore the Defendant was only liable for the assessments back to June 13, 2016.

Court of Appeals

Reversed the trial court and held that the phrase “’all unpaid assessments that came due up to the time of transfer of title’ is more on point…” Finding that “the legislative intent is unambiguous: the present owner is jointly and severally liable with the previous owner for unpaid assessments…”

Lessons Learned
  1. When you buy a condominium make sure you hire competent counsel to review the documents and assessment history and provide you with an opinion of what assessments, from prior owners, you will be liable for; and
  2. If you can’t get the opinion, at least get a warranty and representation from the seller as to the amount of the debt that has not been paid to the association.

Coastal Creek Condominium Association, Inc. v. Fla Trust Services, LLC, 275 So.3d 836 (2019).

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