Hit with Unfair Lien?

If you live in a condo, you might be responsible for your association’s unpaid bills — even if you have already paid your share. One man couldn’t believe that was legal, so he turned to Help Me Howard with Patrick Fraser.

Norman lives in Chicago. His mother lives in a condo in Hallandale.

And then they decided it was time for her to head north.

Norman Altman: “My mother, we moved her up to a senior facility in Chicago, and I’m selling her condo.”

Norman started packing his mother’s things up while the realtor listed his property.

Norman Altman: “The selling was very easy.”

Selling, yes. The closing, no.

Norman Altman: “And they said there’s a lien on your condo, and I said no there’s not. The title search didn’t find any lien.”

Norman knew his mother didn’t owe anyone money, but it turns out the Olympus Condo Association had a $160,000 lien filed by a contractor who did work in the common area of the property.

Norman Altman: “And they didn’t pay him his final payment, and I said, ‘Why do I have to deal with it?'”

Norman’s point: His maintenance fees and special assessment had already paid for his share of the construction work that was done.

Norman Altman: “I felt very… I felt powerless.”

The lawyer for the contractor said Norman’s share of the association lien was $170.

And then more bad news from the contractor’s attorney.

Norman Altman: “And my fee for telling you this basically is $300 — almost twice the amount of this alleged lien.”

Having to pay a lien that was not his irritated Norman. Having to pay a lawyer to say he paid it, called a release of lien, really got on his nerves.

Norman Altman: “He spent 30 seconds on a calculator to multiply my percentage. That just didn’t seem to entitle him to a $300.”

Norman was told to pay the contractor and the contractor’s attorney, or you can’t sell your mother’s condo.

Norman Altman: “I feel like I was blackmailed or coerced into paying something just so I can go to my closing.”

Well, Howard, is Norman right?

Howard Finkelstein: “He is absolutely correct. This law was clearly written by politicians who wanted to protect contractors and associations to the detriment of condo owners. The law forces owners to pay twice. Once for the work and the second time to remove the lien to cover the work. It’s wrong, and the legislature needs to look out for condo owners and change it.”

Norman wasn’t done.

He went through the court records and discovered 32 other owners in his association had to pay the contractor a total of more than $5,400 to be allowed to sell their units.

Meaning the attorney for the contractor had collected around $9,600 for his part.

When the association settles, Norman hopes everyone gets their money back from the contractor and attorney. But will they get it?

Howard Finkelstein: “Legally, the attorney does not have to return his fees because he did work, but the contractor does have to return the money, or the association, if they win in court, has to return it to Norman, but odds are, neither will.”

Patrick Fraser: “Should you get your $170 back?”

Norman Altman: “Absolutely.”

Norman paid the contractor and attorney and sold the condo.

He never expects to get those fees back but hopes the legislature does something so other condo owners don’t have to go through the same thing.

Norman Altman: “This is about a flaw or quirk in the Florida procedure, but the problem is they left the individual condo owner stock with that liability, and that’s completely unfair.”

It brings up the question, why doesn’t the association have to pay the fees Norman had to pay since they have his money for that job? Because the legislature said no.

And why does the attorney get to keep Norman’s payment to him no matter what happens? Because most of the legislators are lawyers, and they always make sure to protect lawyers’ fees.

Got a problem you want to close? Need to “lien” on someone? Contact us. We could never get elected to the legislature, ’cause we look out for the little guys.

Email: helpmehoward@wsvn.com
Reporter: Patrick Fraser at pfraser@wsvn.com
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