Virginia Beach woman’s water turned off 10 months for late homeowner association fees

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Virginia Beach, Va. - 61 year-old Dianne Billings is disabled and said she has been living without water for 10 months.

Billings took NewsChannel 3 through her house and explained how she uses the toilet, showers by dumping water over her head and does laundry once a month at the laundry mat.

Billings has several medical issues including diabetes, lung problems and a broken ankle which is recovering but causes her to walk with a limp.  She said she has had five surgeries on her foot which makes carrying water up stairs very difficult.

The Commons Condominium Homeowner Association voted to have her water turned off because Billings got behind on her homeowner association fees.  The president's wife returned a call from NewsChannel 3 about the situation but would only direct us to "The Select Group," which is the organization that manages the properties and would not answer any questions about why the board decided to shut the water off.

A representative from The Select Group Jill Albright said she could not discuss the specifics of a particular case.   She said the board exercised their right to turn off her water after Billings did not show up for a hearing.  She said the board is willing to work with people to create payment plans, but said if the homeowner doesn't communicate then there is little they can do.

Billings said she owed over $4,000 between the $260 per month for the homeowners fees, her actual water bill, late fees and attorney's fees.  She said she has paid $2,700 of that debt and has been paying $100 per month in an effort to get the bill paid off.  Billings said she was told the water can not be turned back on until the entire bill is paid.

We reached out to the Virginia Beach Public Utilities company and were told that the property has a master meter , meaning an entire complex is serviced by one meter and charged one bill by the city.  The company said most communities serviced by a master meter, typically submeter and charge their tenants. They said how they collect from their tenants is usually defined by the community's bylaws or rules and regulations.

Click here to read the state code that allows for submetering of utility services.

Billings said she was laid up in bed after surgery and didn't get the letter explaining that there was a hearing on the issue until after the hearing was over.

She continues to deal with her injuries and health problems. Billings also showed us a copy of a doctor's note explaining that he needs to have running water for health reasons.

She said animals are treated better than she has been treated and can't believe how inhumane the homeowners association has been to her.

Below is information from the Select Group:

When a potential buyer is looking at purchasing in a community association, they are provided a "Resale Disclosure Package". This packages contains a list of statements and documents so they are aware of matters regarding the community.  The package includes recorded documents (recorded at the city where the community is located), which includes the Declaration, Bylaws and could include Rules & Regulations.  The Declaration, amongst other things, provides what is part of the unit, common element and limited common element and who is responsible for each of those components to maintain, repair, replace and insure.  The Bylaws generally outline the administration and governance of the association, including the responsibilities of the Board of Directors.  The Board generally is obligated to enforce the provisions of the governing documents and rules.

If the potential buyer does not agree with living under these documents with the covenants, conditions and restrictions (which are subject to amendment) and rules or other issues learned through disclosed, they have the right within a certain time to cancel their contract on the unit within a community.

Question:  How does a person’s water get shut off?

The only source of income for any association is assessment income.  Assessments are paid to fund the common expenses.  The governing documents outline, amongst many other matters, how and for what the association is to collect assessments.  The documents will state how much the late fees or interest that can be assessed to an account for the owners’ failure to pay within the required period of time. The documents further state what the Association has the authority to do when an owner does not pay assessments. 

The Virginia Condominium Act also provides the authority for the Association to suspend services, such as water (if paid for by the association), or facilities, such as pool and parking privileges, provided by the Association when an owner is over 60 days delinquent in the payment of assessments. The Condo Act requires that the Association notify the owner by certified and regular mail at least 14 days in advance of the hearing.  The purpose of the hearing is to gather the facts surrounding the owners’ failure to meet their financial obligations to the Association.  The owner is provided an opportunity to address the hearing board as to why they have not been able to pay their assessments in accordance with the governing documents or present a payment plan in order to bring current past due assessments.  The hearing board will listen to the testimony of the owner, review the recorded documents and the owners account and renders a decision based on all the facts presented.  The decision is sent to the owner via certified and regular mail.  Though not required by the governing documents or state law, the association normally provides the owner an additional amount of  time to bring their account current or set up acceptable payment arrangements with the association that would prevent suspension of services or privileges.  Every effort is made by the association to collect the past due assessments without sending owners to a collection attorney, however, the board members have a fiduciary duty to protect the Association’s interests, which may result in the filing of a lien and/or a suit, for which there are time frames involved.  The Association cannot sit on its rights.  There are times when all legal options have been exhausted and/or do not yield any satisfaction or cooperation.   

If an owner does not pay his/her assessments, then it falls on the remaining owners to make up that owner’s share of the common expenses. 

Question:  What is the connection between the select group and the homeowners association?

The Select Group is the management company that is under contract with the Association to perform management, administrative and financial tasks in accordance with the executed contract. Management works at the direction of the Board of Directors.  Management does not have the authority to perform any action unless directed to do so by the Board of Directors.  Management companies assist the Board of Directors in obtaining proposals for contracts on services required to maintain the common elements (i.e. trash collection, landscaping of the common elements, repair of the common elements, insurance, etc.) and other areas of responsibility of the Association.   A management company normally handles all the financial matters including assisting with budget preparation, accounts payable and processing of owner assessments.

Budgets in community associations are adopted on a zero based system.  They are not for profit associations.  This means that all monies coming in from assessments go to pay expenses.  So that at the end of the month there should be no monies left over. When a homeowner does not pay their assessments when they are due, then there is not enough money to pay the Association’s financial obligations.  In the worst case, this could create a need to either add a line item to the yearly budget to cover delinquencies or impose a special assessment to cover the shortfall in income. The Board of Directors has an obligation to ensure that the community is maintained and therefore it must avail itself of appropriate remedies to collect assessments. 

Question:  How can a person prevent getting their water shut off?

This is easy, pay their share of the assessments. If they cannot meet their financial obligations to the Association then they need to communicate the reason to the Board and see if they can work out a reasonable payment plan with which the Association and the homeowner can live.  The Board of Directors does not have the authority to forgive, forget or excuse an owner from paying assessments.  

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