Property Q&A in Phoenix>Question Details

 Natalie, Real Estate Pro in Chicago, IL

Can I take a HOA or title agency to small claims court?

Asked by Natalie, Chicago, IL Tue Mar 5, 2013

I'm a property investor in Australia and I bought a house in Phoenix, Arizona.
I had it rented out for one year through a property manager.
After one year I decided to change management companies. When the new property manager contacted the HOA to update the new management details, we discovered over $1000 in HOA fines accrued on the property.
These were relating to tenants violations like leaving the trash bin in view, having brown grass in the front yard etc.
Upon further inquiry it was revealed the HOA had been sending the warning/violation notices to a non-existent address in Australia.
The address they had on file for me was similar to my actual address but was incorrect. Hence I never received any of these letters over the one year period. The HOA said they had obtained the address on file from the Title Agency at closing.
I inquired as to why they never sent any warning letters to the actual house itself, to the tenants who were responsible for the violations and they responded

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Natalie’s answer
Basically the street name was correct but the numbers were not correct.

For example instead of saying '72 B John St', it had been entered at '728 John St'.

Don't get me wrong, I can see how the error could have been made especially how in America most streets have 3 or 4 digits because the streets are so long but in Australia the town planning is a little different. So a set of houses in a row will be like 72 A, 72 B, 72 C, 72 D.

Nevertheless, it wasn't the address I supplied and it cost me a lot for their little error.
0 votes Thank Flag Link Wed Mar 6, 2013
Right, not wanting you to post the address online, but was wondering if it was a "typo"

Keep us posted as to the outcome

All the best!
0 votes Thank Flag Link Wed Mar 6, 2013
It wasn't light years away from the correct address. I don't want to post my address online but let's just say it was similar but not correct.
0 votes Thank Flag Link Wed Mar 6, 2013
did they mention how they obtained the "wrong" address?
0 votes Thank Flag Link Wed Mar 6, 2013
It was American Title Agency. I think your advice is very good. The amount I would be taking them to court for is just over $1000. The amount of time they would have to pay someone to attend court to rebut my claim would add up.
I will assemble all my documentation and send it to someone in management.
I have their email confirmation that they made a mistake with my address so they can't deny it at this point in time.
0 votes Thank Flag Link Wed Mar 6, 2013
I worked for title companies for 29 years...I know the issue. They were negligent in providing the HOA with your correct address and they now know it. Don't speak to the escrow officer who handled the transaction, but contact their main office and speak to the Escrow Department Manager. This person manages all their branches and oversees the branch manager. Which title company was it?
0 votes Thank Flag Link Wed Mar 6, 2013
Hi Stephanie, thank you so much for your lovely supportive response. I just emailed the title agency and got a response back almost immediately. The address they entered into their system and there for passed onto the HOA was in fact INCORRECT. So the HOA was given a fictional, non-existent address. I replied to the Title agency how I received over $1000 in fines due to their error. I asked for them to reimburse me for this cost. I am yet to receive a reply and somehow I don't think they will ever reply!
Regarding the HOA monthly dues, it was $50 per month and I chose to pay this one year ahead with a check for $600 which I sent to them so I wouldn't have to send one every month.
So I guess now if I did choose to take anyone to court it would be the title agency.
0 votes Thank Flag Link Wed Mar 6, 2013
Seems like you were not properly notified by the HOA...why wouldn't they send the information via "certified mail"? They send their certs & information that way or via fed ex during the escrow process? Seems like the HOA has some responsibility here. Who was paying the monthly HOA fee? Was the original property manager? I would contact the title company to find out what address they provided to the HOA "and" contact the HOA as to where they obtained this address. If the address was non-existent, then that mail should have been sent back to the HOA at which time the HOA should have then known that they had a wrong address. If you shoot me an email with the property address, I'll look up the deed that was recorded at closing unless of course you have it. Keep us posted...I'm curious as to how this turns out. All the best!
0 votes Thank Flag Link Wed Mar 6, 2013
I hope that you can get this resolved!
0 votes Thank Flag Link Tue Mar 5, 2013
that they were a Home OWNER Association, not a Home Tenant Association.
I wrote letters to the HOA to appeal the fines but was told the debt would merely accrue interest and the HOA would eventually initiate foreclosure procedures on my home. I paid the full amount immediately just to ratify the situation.
Now I am sincerely hoping I can recoup the funds somehow but I don't know who is responsible and how I can go about doing this. Can I ask the title agency to confirm what overseas address they supplied and if they did in fact give the right address should I take the HOA to small claims court?
I am planning to go to Phoenix next month anyway so I won't be having to especially pay for airfare and accommodation.
0 votes Thank Flag Link Tue Mar 5, 2013
Oh my gosh, I'm so sorry! I will post the second half which was cut off.
0 votes Thank Flag Link Tue Mar 5, 2013

Sorry but that portion of your question doesn't show up online, the question is longer than the display box.
0 votes Thank Flag Link Tue Mar 5, 2013
I would appreciate if respondents took more time to read the question first. You will see that I already wrote the HOA board to appeal the fines but my pleas were refused.
I would have expected more forethought and intelligible answers from Trulia Voices.
0 votes Thank Flag Link Tue Mar 5, 2013
Why don't you negotiate with the HOA to reduce the amount owed and settle the dispute. It would seem mistakes were made, someone got the address wrong? It's not uncommon for them to agree to settle an amount owed by removing late fees, fines etc. so the issue goes away.

Attend (Your representative) the HOA Board Meeting with some facts (title docs etc) and ask to settle the issue. Pay what you have to and be done with the issue.

Or go to court and spend who knows how much to see if you can win. Remember if you lose you could end up paying the fines plus attorney costs for both sides potentially.
0 votes Thank Flag Link Tue Mar 5, 2013
Of course you can take anybody to court but I'll bet you signed more than one document stating you waive your right to trial and agree to arbitration. Have your attorney review all of your documents. But before jumping into court, have you spoken to the title company and the HOA company to try to see if they can help you resolve the problem?
When you closed escrow on the property and signed all the closing documents, including the HUD-1 statement, did you not notice the error on your address? Errors by title companies are not non-existant but the final approval of all documents on the purchase of the home are your responsibility. You signed the documents and if they had an incorrect address for you, then you should have taken notice and corrected the problem.
Your an investor. You should have been more astute on day one
0 votes Thank Flag Link Tue Mar 5, 2013
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