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Townhouse owner should challenge bills for damages

Dear Benny: We live in a townhouse. Many of the outdoor structures, fences, etc., outside many of the houses that I’ve seen are not in compliance with our rules or our bylaws.

Two years ago, when I bought the house, there were three things mentioned by the association that needed to be fixed and we fixed them. But somehow the association would find ways to notice something outside our house that was not within the rules and tell us that we need to fix it or they would fix it and bill us.

The association claimed we had nail damages above the garage door on the siding and that they were going to fix it and bill us. I found one rusty nail and removed it.

Whenever I asked the association to prove the “damages,” they would not. Instead we got new management, who sent us a letter saying that we had to pay $145 for a siding repair. I disputed the charges with the new management; they said that the previous manager “forgot” to send the bills.

The description for the charges were “nail damages on the right side of the garage siding.” I don’t know how this changed from above the garage door to the right side of the garage. I’m still disputing the charges.

Does the old management or the new management have the right to bill me on something they cannot prove? Why are they continuing to harass us on issues that existed prior to us even buying the house? Do I have any recourse? –Ruby

Dear Ruby: Yes, you have recourse.

You should send management and the board of directors a strong letter (by certified mail, return receipt requested) stating that (1) they have no proof that there was nail damage and, more importantly, (2) the first notice is inconsistent with the second notice.

Tell them that you do not plan to pay and will fight them in court should they file suit or file a lien against your unit.

That, of course, is the legal recourse. And while I don’t belittle $145 as having no value, sometimes it is easier to pay the bill and have the matter dropped.

Clients often tell me that it is a matter of principle and they want to fight for what they know is right. I remind them that there are two spellings to that word: “principle” and “principal.” One deals with ethics and morals, and the other deals with money.

You could also write a letter of complaint to your state’s attorney general but, once again, that office probably is busy and I doubt that you will get a prompt response. However, the letter may scare off your board and the property manager, so such a letter clearly can’t hurt and may actually help.

If, on the other hand, you have proof that other homeowners are having similar problems, then you should organize a group and try to overthrow the current board. Honor that time-old expression: “Throw the rascals out.”

Dear Benny: I want to pay extra on my principal.

I remember you saying not to pay it with your regular payment. But I don’t remember what you said to do.

I don’t just want to send it without any other paperwork. Should I call the company? I think they will just tell me to send it with my regular payment. –Judi

Dear Judi: If you can afford to make extra payments on your mortgage, your loan will be reduced faster and you will end up paying a lot less interest.

I did not say not to pay it with your regular payment. What I said was to write on the bottom of your check “$xxx extra principal payment.”

Also, all mortgage lenders have some form of voucher that you have to send in with your monthly payment. There will be a line for “extra payment,” so fill it in.

If you are making your payments automatically through your bank, you should advise your lender – in writing – that you are making extra payments.

But regardless of how you do this, at the end of each year, confirm by reviewing your mortgage balance that your extra payments have, in fact, been credited toward your loan.

Benny Kass is a practicing attorney in Washington, D.C., and Maryland. No legal relationship is created by this column. Questions for this column can be submitted to benny@inman.com.

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