Is there an Attorney Fee that is Too Big to Collect for Violations of Association Rules?

April 8, 2016

In a recent case in the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court, a condominium association was awarded attorneys’ fees that were almost 23 times larger than the fine and assessments they were trying to collect.  Because the litigation to collect past due assessments and a snow removal fee took three years to complete, the amounts awarded to the association broke down like this: $239 for late assessments, $500 for a snow removal special assessment, $300 capital improvement special assessment, $104 late fee, and $26,206.68 in attorney’s fees.

The matter was before the Commonwealth Court because the Unit Owner complained that the attorneys’ fees were not reasonable.  The Court disagreed and awarded all the attorneys’ fees to the Association and against the Unit Owner.  The decision made three important points that all associations should remember.  They are:

  1. An Association is not required to accept less than the full sum it is entitled. The Association can try to recover all of the attorney’s fees, late fees, and costs it incurs.
  1. Attorney’s fees should be awarded to the Association even if they are disproportionate to the assessments to be collected. Attorneys’ fees and costs that are 23 times greater than the actual fees are permitted.
  1. The Association does not need expert testimony to establish that attorneys’ fees are reasonable. In this case, the property manager testified that he worked with other attorneys in this field, and that the rate charged was “reasonable and competitive for the work involved.”  This means that the Association does not need an expert condominium attorney to testify that the attorney’s fees are reasonable.  So long as the property manager, or board member, or someone could present evidence that the fees were reasonable for the work performed, the Court was willing to accept this testimony.

Sometimes an Association can accumulate significant attorney’s fees, especially for cases involving collections or violations of rules and regulations, rental restrictions, etc. This is especially true when the Unit Owner delays or drags out the litigation.  Cases like the The Arches Condominium v. Robinson should be useful to remind courts to award Associations the attorney’s fees and costs to which they are entitled.

Aaron Marines is an attorney at Russell, Krafft & Gruber, LLP, in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. He received his law degree from Widener University and practices in a variety of areas including Commercial and Residential Real EstateLand Use, Land Planning and Zoning matters.