Searching for Money: A Condominium Association’s Guide to Acquiring Financing

Searching for Money: A Condominium Association’s Guide to Acquiring Financing

A Condominium Association enjoys broad powers based upon Chapter 718, Florida Statutes, otherwise known as “The Florida Condominium Act.” Despite the guidance provided by the statute and case law which interprets it, little has been written to guide Condominium Associations when borrowing funds to finance various projects.

Associations often borrow money to build capital improvements such as clubhouses; perform extensive remedial work and to buy out recreational leases. Associations must be careful to review its own condominium documents to evaluate whether limitations exist on the right to borrow. This article will discuss the practical considerations to be addressed by a Condominium Association when borrowing funds.

Review Of The Condominium Documents
The condominium documents including the Declaration of Condominium, Articles of Incorporation and By-laws dictate how money can be raised to fund certain projects. the procedure to be followed depends upon the purpose for raising such funds. To the extent that the Association desires to perform maintenance work to its own property or common elements, money can be raised by passing a special assessment on its unit owners pursuant to Section 718.116, Florida Statutes. Most condominium documents provide the Association with the authority to borrow funds for such purposes without acquiring unit owner consent. However, to the extent that the Association desires to buy out a recreation lease, build a clubhouse or otherwise perform material alterations or acquire substantial additions to the common elements or to Association property, unit owner approval is necessary. Section 718.113, Florida Statutes provides that if the Declaration of Condominium is silent on the percentage of unit owners required to approve such activities seventy-five (75%) percent shall govern.

Where To Seek Financing
Once the Association has determined the purpose in raising funds, a source of financing must be located. Financing is often sought when the Association is unable to raise sufficient funds through a special assessment of its members. In many instances, some or all members may not have the money to pay a large lump sum assessment. Typically, an Association will first attempt to look to acquire financing from the bank that handles its operating account. However, the Association should not view the bank as its only source. Often times, members of the Association’s Board of Directors or unit owners may have personal contacts with a lender that is able to provide more favorable rates and flexibility in terms of structure and cost of financing. In some circumstances, a willingness to shift the Association’s operating account to another lender will provide the Association with leverage to acquire the most favorable financing program.

Structuring The Deal
Once the Association has acquired authorization to borrow money and has located a lending institution, structuring the deal becomes the next significant step.

It is not unusual for an Association to borrow in excess of $ 1 Million to finance the purchase of recreational lands from a Developer or to perform significant renovation work to remedy structural defects such as those associated with balconies located in close proximity to the ocean. Lending institutions, with the assistance of counsel for the Association, can be creative in formulating a plan to achieve the financial goals of the Association. The most significant aspect is how the lending institution will secure its loan to the Association.

Unlike other private entities and individuals, a Condominium Association has the statutory right to raise money by a special assessment of its members. Under this scenario, a unit owner’s failure to pay a special assessment will constitute a lien on each condominium parcel for any unpaid assessments. The lien for unpaid assessments will also be subject to an award of interest and reasonable attorney’s fees incurred by the Association to collect or enforce the lien. This statutory right to pass and enforce a special assessment provides security to a lending institution that elects to lend money to an Association. Consequently, a lender will often accept an Assignment of the Association’s right, title and interest in and to all current and future assessments made by the Association against its unit owner members for the purposes of timely payment of all sums due to a lender. For example, an agreement for the purchase of a recreation lease and underlying property between an Association and lender will often include an Assignment which provides as follows:

“The Association hereby irrevocably and unconditionally assigns all of its right, title and interest in and to all special assessments now existing or hereinafter levied by the Association against its unit owner members which are made for the purposes of repayment of the loan or the payment of rent under any lease or lease on real property owned by the Association.”

The foregoing procedure provides the lender with assurance that the loan will be repaid. However, financing a special assessment is expensive when considering loan and interest charges. Certain unit owners may be opposed to being assessed finance charges when they are financially capable of paying the special assessment in a lump sum at the time the loan is acquired. Should a number of unit owners have the ability to pay the special assessment in a lump sum, this process would reduce the total amount of money to be borrowed by the Association along with incidental finance charges.

As a special assessment constitutes an encumbrance on property, the Association would negotiate elimination of any prepayment penalty charges should the loan in whole or in part be paid early. Consequently, elimination of a pre-payment penalty clause would enable the Association or a unit owner to avoid additional finance charges should they pay off the debt prior to the maturity date.

Typical Costs Associated With Financing
Should the Association elect to mortgage its property to acquire financing the following fees will be generated:

Bank loan fees, Bank counsel fees, corporate searches, Survey, Title insurance costs, accounting costs, Documentary stamps, Intangible documentary stamps on the amount of the note and mortgage, Environment assessment of property, Recording charges, The cost of amending the condominium documents if additional property is acquired by the Association.

The Association and its counsel should attempt to discuss and negotiate the above-listed fees with the lending institution prior to signing a commitment letter. The Association should never sign a commitment letter without first consulting with counsel. Once the commitment letter is signed, the Association may be obligated to pay a non-refundable fee. Moreover, attempting to re-negotiate the terms of the loan may delay the process as it would require reconsideration by the loan committee.

Conclusion
In closing, a condominium Association must identify its purpose in raising funds. The purpose of raising funds will dictate the procedure to be followed. If funds are to be raised for maintenance repairs, a special assessment can be passed without unit owner consent. Condominium documents typically authorize the Board of Directors of a Condominium Association to borrow funds without owner consent. However, certain condominium documents may require unit owner approval. To the extent that the Association elects to borrow funds to perform material alterations or to acquire a substantial addition to Association property, the condominium documents will govern the procedure to be followed. If the condominium documents are silent, seventy-five (75%) percent unit owner approval must first be acquired before a special assessment can be passed pursuant to Section 718.113 (2), Florida Statutes.

When attempting to acquire financing, look to the members of Association’s board of directors and its unit owners to identify lender’s that can provide the most favorable rate. The bank handling the Association’s operating account is often the best source of financing and may be willing to negotiate certain costs associated with financing. Likewise, conferring with an attorney that specializes in association work can often assist you in reducing the costs associated with obtaining a loan.

Most importantly, shop around and take advantage of the collective financial strength of the Association and its unit owner members.