Over the past ten or so years, community associations in New Jersey have struggled with delinquent owners who, for numerous reasons, have ignored their responsibility to pay their common expense assessments and, in some cases, abandoned their homes. Many of these homes sat (or still sit) vacant for years due to the fact that mortgage lenders did not – or for a few years were prohibited by the courts from – prosecuting mortgage foreclosure actions. Since we are only now starting to see some increasing movement with mortgage foreclosures and Sheriff’s sales, associations were required to find creative ways to collect these past due assessments.
When traditional collection methods failed, some associations opted to foreclose the assessment lien(s) on the delinquent homes. Some obtained authority to rent vacant homes with the assistance of a court-appointed receiver (rent receivers), when and if the courts were amenable to such remedy, which is not always the case. In other circumstances, where the mortgage lender changed the locks or winterized a home, associations sought to hold the mortgage lender responsible for the assessments, claiming that the lender was a “mortgagee in possession”; however, due to a recent published decision, that avenue to collect delinquent assessments has been prohibited in most cases.
On June 6, 2017, the Appellate Division issued a decision in Woodlands Community Association, Inc. v. Mitchell. That decision, which was approved for publication, held that a mortgage lender’s act of securing its interest in the unit (changing the locks and “winterizing” the unit) did not amount to possession and did not create a duty for the lender to pay the ongoing assessments due to the association.