Hector and Hedy Johnson bought a new condominium just off Lakeshore Drive in 1995 and lived there for 19 years. In 2014 they sold the apartment to Leonard and Lena Smith. A year later, the condominium association’s board of directors voted to replace the building’s roof and imposed a special assessment to pay for the project. “That’s not fair,” the Smiths complained, insisting that they shouldn’t have to pay the full assessment to replace a roof that sheltered the Johnsons for 95 percent of its life.
It wasn’t fair—but major components and systems don’t last forever, and big assessments are what happens when a board doesn’t set aside funds on a regular basis to update those components and systems.
“The number one mistake a board can make is characterizing such things as future expenses,” says Robert Nordlund, founder and CEO of Association Reserves, Inc., a Calabasas, California-based, reserve study firm with clients in every state.
“It’s human nature to worry about future things at a future time,” he explains, “but if you characterize reserve expenses as offsetting ongoing deterioration, the future takes care of itself. Associations that don’t pay this ongoing bill doom themselves to deferred maintenance, special assessments, and declining property values.”
What Deserves Reserves
Nordlund says that for an item to warrant reserve funding, it must be a common area maintenance responsibility, exceed a minimum threshold cost, and have a limited and predictable useful life.