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Seattle Times business reporter Elizabeth Rhodes posts the answers to your real estate questions as they pop up during the week. Join this ongoing discussion, which also features reader reaction to real-estate articles appearing throughout The Times.

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September 29, 2008 3:57 PM

Collecting delinquent condo dues

Posted by Elizabeth Rhodes

Q: When homeowners in our large condominium association fall behind on their dues, our recourse has been to lien the property. Realistically, are there other avenues of recovery we could pursue? Perhaps take them to small-claims court? Or turn them over to a collection agency?

A: Has your association been trying to economize by filing liens without a lawyer's help? If so, you've probably figured out that "a lien by itself isn't self executing," says Mercer Island attorney Kris Sundberg.

In other words, just having a lien doesn't deliver the bucks. Association officers would then have to continue to pursue the delinquent owners.

You can take your case to small-claims court. That will put the burden on board members to file, show up and present a case -- an additional duty they may not be willing to entertain. And even if they do proceed and get a judgment, it won't automatically pay off, which means you'll have to continue to go after the owners.

As for using a collection agency, be prepared to pay the agency 40 percent or more of anything it collects as fee for its services.

The final option is hiring an attorney experienced in condominium law. There are various legal avenues the attorney can take, and you may be able to recover back dues and attorney's fees, Sundberg says.

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