Special assessments

A lady calculating fees on a calculator while consulting an open notebook.Special assessments can be charged by your condominium corporation on top of regular monthly fees and the board of directors can charge a special assessment without getting permission from condo owners. By-laws of the corporation may have rules about special assessments and may include provisions for owner input. In addition, the decision to levy a special assessment can be challenged in court if proper procedures are not followed.

Reasons why special assessments occur

Your board may need to levy a special assessment for various reasons. Here are some of the most common: 

  • Unforeseen expenses: a major expense may arise unexpectedly.  This might happen during a critical year for the reserve fund. A critical year is one where your condominium has depleted the reserve fund to complete major projects. As a result, the reserve fund has too low a balance to cover the unexpected expense.
  • Under-budgeting: an expense or major repair may end up costing more than expected.
  • Losing a lawsuit: unit owners must bear any judgment against the condominium. If the condominium can’t pay the judgment from the operating fund, the board must level a special assessment to pay the judgment.

How much do you pay?

You must pay your portion of any special assessments. If you don’t, you risk the same consequences you would suffer if you neglected to pay your common element fees.

The board will tell you how much you have to pay.  Your portion is calculated using the same percentage used to calculate your common element fees.

Potential consequences of special assessments

The ability to predict expenses helps people stay in control of their financial situations.  You can better budget for regular condominium fees than you can for unforeseen special assessments.  Those of modest means may not be able to pay the assessment, so the condominium may place a lien on their units.

Prospective buyers are legally entitled to a status certificate, which includes information about special assessments. Savvy buyers make the transaction conditional upon review of the status certificate. News of a special assessment can cause prospective buyers to back out of a purchase. They could also demand a lower price for your unit.

Avoiding special assessments

The best way to avoid special assessments is to ensure there is enough money in the reserve fund.  Everyone likes low common element fees, but if fees are too low, a special assessment is more likely.  The board needs to set fees high enough to cover expenses.  As an owner, you need to understand that higher fees mean special assessments are less likely.

Borrowing

An alternative to a special assessment is for the condominium to borrow money.  The borrowed money is paid back over several years. This lessens the immediate impact of the expenditure. You can do this if your corporation has a borrowing bylaw.

If you still have concerns about a special assessment

You can ask to review relevant documents to better understand the reasons for the special assessment. You can also requisition an owners’ meeting about the issue.