Drummer Boy Homes Association v. Britton

Rolling Condominium Super-Priority Lien Upheld By SJC

by Rich Vetstein on March 31, 2016

massachusetts condominium super lienDrummer Boy Homes Association, Inc. v. Britton

In a long awaited ruling pitting condominium associations against mortgage lenders backed by the Federal Housing Finance Authority, the Supreme Judicial Court has upheld the so-called “rolling” super-priority lien for unpaid condominium fees. What this means for condominium associations in Massachusetts is that they are able to seek super-priority liens for successive 6 month periods of unpaid condominium fees, rather than be limited to one six month period. The super-priority lien takes priority over the first mortgage on the delinquent unit, thereby giving the condominium association a powerful tool to collect unpaid condo fees.

Thomas Moriarty, Esq. of Marcus, Errico, Emmer and Brooks, who represented the condominium association told me that “we are pleased with the results and we believe that this leaves condominium associations with the power to ensure payment of condominium fees as was intended by the Massachusetts legislature when it enacted the priority lien provisions of the statute 23 years ago to deal with the emergency created by unit owners not paying condominium fees to pay for essential services.”

The SJC recognized that the non-payment of condominium fees can have disastrous consequences upon a condominium association, especially smaller projects. The super-priority lien was established by the Legislature in reaction to the real estate recession in the early 1990’s where many condominium associations were financially devastated by non-payment of condo fees. Among other protections, the super-priority lien enables an association to leverage the mortgage lender to pay up to 6 month’s worth of outstanding condominium fees on behalf of the delinquent owner. The “rolling” lien practice developed by condominium attorneys where the outstanding balance exceeded 6 months worth of fees. Two years ago, the Appeals Court ruled that the rolling lien procedure was not permissible, leaving condominium associations in limbo regarding their ability to collect unpaid fees.

Led by Tom Moriarty and Alan Lipkind of Burns & Levinson, condominium associations successfully persuaded the SJC that the Legislature intended for associations to have the protections of the “rolling” lien. The justices reasoned that “our interpretation of the statute is consistent with the Legislature’s long-standing interest in improving the governance of condominiums and strengthening the ability of organization of unit owners to collect common expenses, thereby avoiding a reemergence of the serious public emergency that developed in the early 1990”s.”

This is a major victory for condominium associations who should all be having collective sigh of relief. If you have any questions about this ruling or need assistance collecting unpaid condo fees, please contact me at [email protected] or 508-620-5352.

Drummer Boy Homes Association v. Britton

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massachusetts condominium super lienUpdate 3/30/16: SJC Reverses Appeals Court, Allowing Rolling Lien Procedure

Ruling Hurts Condominium Associations’ Collection Efforts

The Massachusetts Condominium Act gives condominium associations the ability to file a “super-lien” for unpaid monthly condominium fees, six months of which is given priority over a first mortgage against the unit. The super-lien has proven to be a very effective method for condominiums to collect delinquent fees because lenders will often pay off the super-priority amount so as not to affect their mortgage priority.

But what happens when a unit owner owes more than six month’s worth of condo fees? In that situation, innovative condominium attorneys have developed a practice of filing multiple lien lawsuits to create a “rolling” lien for successive 6 month periods. Unfortunately for condominium associations, the Appeals Court recently put the kibosh on this practice in the case of Drummer Boy Homes Association v. Britton (Nov. 7, 2014).

Rolling Lien Practice

In the Drummer Boy case, the unit owner withheld payment of condo fees in a dispute with the condominium trustees over parking rights and fines. (Note, this is a big “no-no” as the law provides that a disgruntled unit owner must pay fees under protest). The condominium lawyers filed three separate and successive lawsuits asserting a super-lien over 18 months worth of unpaid fees. The lawsuits were all consolidated. A district court judge ruled, however, that the association had a super-priority lien over only the first 6 months before the first lawsuit, not the 18 months’ worth claimed.

Court: Super-lien Limited To 6 Months Of Fees

On appeal, the Appeals Court likewise held that the association’s super-lien only covered the initial 6 month period, not the 18 month period claimed. The Court reasoned that the Mass. Condominium Act was modeled after the Uniform Condominium Act which clearly provided that the maximum amount of a super-priority lien was 6 months worth of fees, and that this was a fair balance between the interests of lenders and condominium associations. Of course, the condominium association is free to collect all of the outstanding fees from the unit owner and sell the unit at auction, but the first mortgage will have priority over all of the fees except for 6 months plus attorneys’ fees, so it’s essentially a Pyrrhic victory.

As the condominium attorneys over at Perkins|Ancil are saying, this ruling may be appealed to the SJC and going forward associations will likely be forced to avail themselves of the remedy of foreclosure sooner rather than later in order to fully protect their financial interests. Failing that, condominium associations will have to lobby the Legislature for a change in the super-priority lien amount over above the 6 month cap. This remains a case to watch!

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