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Elderly owner questions board's special assessment

September 28, 2008|Stephen Glassman and Donie Vanitzian | Special to The Times

Question: I am 95 and have owned and lived in my Century City-area condominium for more than 34 years. My board has informed me they have taken out a loan of more than $22 million from an out-of-state bank. They notified me that my portion of the special assessment to repay the loan is $45,697 and sent a bill for $410.74 per month beginning June 30, 2008, for the next 15 years. Their letter stated that if I didn't pay the monthly amount in 30 days, the entire amount would be payable immediately.

I asked for proof of the loan indebtedness and was denied. The board claimed it was confidential and kept secret so that "no one could annoy the bank." The board informed me in writing that if I did not pay I would be sued, a lien would be placed on my property leading to foreclosure and ultimately I would be thrown out of my home.

After pressing the board, I have just learned that there is no loan, there never was a loan and there are no ongoing projects necessitating repairs. I am being forced to pay monthly for a nonexisting loan under threat of foreclosure and eviction. I am on a fixed income, scared and without money to hire lawyers. What can I do?

Answer: If the board of directors lied or misrepresented the facts to the owners, the directors must be removed, replaced, investigated and, if necessary, sued. If the court finds that the board acted fraudulently, each director may be held individually liable for the consequences and damages to the individual owners.

In situations like this, titleholders cannot afford to sit back and see what happens. Consult with an attorney who specializes in cases of elder abuse. It may well be that you and others of your age living in that project have been abused, as the law defines that term, by the board's actions. According to California Penal Code Section 368(g), "elder" means any person who is 65 years or older. Also under Penal Code Section 368(d), "Any person who is not a caretaker who violates any provision of law proscribing theft, embezzlement, forgery, or fraud . . . and who knows or reasonably should know that the victim is an elder . . . is punishable by imprisonment in a county jail not exceeding one year, or in the state prison for two, three, or four years, when the moneys, labor, goods, services, or real or personal property taken or obtained is of a value exceeding four hundred dollars ($400)."

Don't wait for the association to sue you before you take action. If other owners question this board's actions, get a group together and seek an injunction against the association in its efforts to lien and collect. This may help prevent premature foreclosures based on the loan in question.

Demand copies of all minutes where the board voted an approval for the assessment and the amount each titleholder is to pay. If the total amount of the assessment exceeds the 5% allowed by law of the association's operating budget, and the board failed to obtain a vote of approval by all titleholders, its actions are illegal and no one has to pay this assessment.

A board cannot circumvent the law merely by claiming it doesn't want owners to annoy the bank. Titleholders must immediately demand verification of the debt. Pursuant to California Civil Code Section 1365.1(b) and Section 1367.1, "An owner has a right to review the association's records to verify the debt."

In California that right is enforceable in Small Claims Court and Superior Court. You can file a complaint with the state attorney general's office online at www.ag.ca.gov.

Seniors older than 60 can call the California Senior Legal Hotline at (800) 222-1753 for free advice on any legal issue outside of criminal law. For additional information, go to www.seniorlegalhotline.org.

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Send questions to P.O. Box 11843, Marina del Rey, CA 90295 or e-mail noexit@mindspring.com.

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