Q: A few months ago my condo put a wrongful charge on my monthly dues bill. I called the management company and gave them a piece of my mind. They never called me back, and while I did get a few letters, I ignored them. This morning, someone knocked on my door and handed me a lawsuit filed by my association! Do I need to deal with this nonsense? — Jackie
A: Yes. Being sued, even wrongfully, has severe consequences and should not be ignored. If you do not respond to the lawsuit within the time allowed, you will be “defaulted,” which is like admitting you are wrong and waiving your defense. Your association can then get a judgment against you or, in some cases, even foreclose your home to pay the charges, along with their costs of bringing the lawsuit.
You should consult with an attorney to learn your rights. If you do not have the money to hire an attorney or feel you can deal with it yourself, you should research the situation the best you can, and try to make a legal, rather than emotional, response to the lawsuit against you. You can also ask the court to send you to mediation, where you may be able to resolve the matter without a drawn-out lawsuit.
Your best bet is to avoid the situation to begin with. If your association incorrectly charges you, your first step is to communicate with them to have your account fixed. If they agree, get it in writing so you can prove it later if they do not make the change. If they refuse to correct the mistake, you will need to pay the incorrect charge before continuing the fight.
This is the step that most people do not want to do and bristle against when I recommend it. However, by paying the incorrect charge, you bring your account back into good standing and will not be charged late fees and collection costs while you continue to contest the issue. I have spoken with many homeowners who did not follow this step and turned a small charge into thousands of dollars of unnecessary collection costs.
(Article written by Gary Singer)