Creating a budget is one of the primary and most important functions that any community association board does during its tenure. The budget will serve as the guideline to determine the dollar amount owners are charged to live in their communities. There are differing obligations to consider when budgeting for a Homeowners Association (HOA) versus a Condominium Association. Today, we will discuss the differences and offer tips when creating your own community association budget.
Let’s start with HOAs. HOA budgets are often a bit simpler than those for condominium associations. That is because HOA budgets normally do not require reserves. Reserves refer to funds set aside for future capital expenses and major repairs or replacements of common property or assets within the community. Unless members of the association have voted to create reserve accounts, or the original developer of the property put reserves in the HOA’s Declaration of Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions (CC&R) – commonly referred to as simply the “declaration” – reserves are not mandatory for HOAs. However, if the HOA votes to put money away for future capital expenses, or defer line items (like maintenance), they have that option. Unlike condominium associations, HOAs are not limited or hamstrung by Florida’s Reserve Statutes, which require specific line items in the condo’s budget. For HOAs, the reserves are more like a savings account to use at the board's discretion.
One of the misconceptions of the budgeting process is going into it with the intention of trying to hit a target assessment mark. Members may get in the mindset of trying to raise or lower assessments or reach a specific number, like deciding we want $400 a month assessments, then trying to figure out how to get there. Whether for HOAs or condominium association, that's really not how budgets are supposed to work.
Budgets are estimations of expected expenses for the upcoming year that are created in order to derive a necessary revenue stream. The idea is to put all of your expected expenses into a basket, itemize them through your budget, the sum of which the necessary amount of revenue you have to generate. When you divide that amount by unit owners, that is what produces the amount of the community’s assessments, which are the monthly fees associated with living within that community.
Of course, budgets are guidelines – you're not restricted or expected to spend every dollar on each line item. A budget is not a cap for how much you are able to spend on those items and it's also not a restriction to only spend those specific items listed in the budget. Again, it's an estimate and guideline so an association can collect the appropriate amount of money from its residents.
Ultimately, things may happen that were not taken into account at the time of the budgeting process. Sometimes more money is needed and other times less money is spent than what was budgeted. Both situations are certainly within the parameters of what is acceptable because this is an estimation and a guideline for best practices relative to budgets; it is not a hard and steadfast rule.
Regarding condominium associations, Florida’s Condominium and Cooperative Acts law requires associations to fund for reserves, which is the default that has existed for decades. Through next year, the board will retain the ability to call for a vote to waive or partially fund reserves. However, as of January 1, 2025, all structural integrity reserve items must be fully funded and can no longer be waived or partially funded (the well-intended purpose of this legislation is to prevent another Surfside tragedy).
With these tips in mind, we hope you have a good budget season. If ever you have any questions or concerns, please feel free to reach out to one of Sachs Sax Caplan’s experienced community association attorneys at 561-994-4499. We look forward to working with you.
Daniel A. Weber is an Associate Attorney at Sachs Sax Caplan practicing within the Community Associations Practice Group, and Board Certified by the Florida Bar in Condominium and Planned Development law. He began his legal career working with a solo practitioner representing municipalities in defense of worker’s compensation and liability claims. Prior to joining our law firm, Mr. Weber practiced community association real estate and business law, and brings extensive knowledge and expertise in the operations and management of community associations. He has handled a wide range of matters including interpreting and amending governing documents, litigating covenant enforcement cases, prosecuting lien foreclosure actions, reviewing and negotiating contracts, and all manner of general counsel work. Mr. Weber has an undergraduate degree in business management from Florida State University and a Juris Doctor degree from Florida Coastal School of Law. Learn more about him including how to work with him here.
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