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posted: 4/7/2013 4:00 AM

Battling with your association will likely get very expensive

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Q. After years of battling with my homeowners association, I am selling my condominium. I just received the "assessment letter" and it says I owe them more than $1,500, even though I am current with my dues. They enclosed an accounting, which shows I have been charged for numerous fines and legal fees.

I have refused to pay these fines in the past because I don't believe I violated any rules. When they didn't remove the fines, I stopped paying the association dues, which is what led to the attorneys fees. I eventually did catch up with my dues.

My attorney says I have to pay what they say or I can't close. I feel this is extortion. Don't I have any rights here? Is the association allowed to fine anyone whatever they want and get away with it?

A. I've said it before and I'll say it again; there is absolutely no future in battling with your association. They hold all the cards and, as you have now learned, not only will you usually end up paying the fines anyway, you often also earn the privilege of taking care of their attorneys, as well.

The time to contest fines is when they are assessed. All associations have a review process that allows you to plead your case in contesting the fine. This usually occurs at the monthly board meetings.

If you do not obtain relief at this stage, the next stage would be at the courthouse. Again, this is usually not a good idea. If you lose, the costs incurred between their attorney and maybe your attorney will dwarf the $25 or $50 fine the association is attempting to assess.

If you are absolutely determined not to pay what the association is demanding, you could probably talk the title company into holding back sufficient money to cover the outstanding charges plus potential attorneys fees and close your deal. Given the uncertainty of the attorneys fees, the title company would probably require a holdback that greatly exceeds the current amount due. Then you would have to sue the association, again exposing yourself to both your and the association's attorneys fees.

As much as you don't want to hear this, pay what the association is demanding and leave them in your rearview mirror. You will forget about it sooner than you think.

Q. My husband and I have been attempting to short sell our home. We got an offer and submitted it to our mortgage company, along with the numerous additional documents they requested. After about two months, they came back saying they would not agree to the short sale unless my husband and I contributed $5,000.

I thought the whole idea of a short sale was that the seller walks away without any further obligations. Does this sound right to you?

A. Your situation is becoming more and more common. The lender on one of my last deals demanded the seller contribute $5,000.

It would appear lenders are taking a closer look at the financial documents you are required to submit for short sale approval. If you show money in the bank or a healthy income, lenders apparently feel you should share in the pain.

If you are in fact financially distraught, I would consider attempting to contact the negotiator and pleading your case. Not sure it will do much good, but you have nothing to lose by asking. If they insist on the contribution, you will have to decide whether it's worth it to agree to their demand or continue on whatever path you are now on.

• Send your questions to attorney Tom Resnick, 345 N. Quentin Road, Palatine, IL 60067, by email to tdr100@hotmail.com or call (847) 359-8983.

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