THE ESTOPPEL FEE DEBATE

If you think that mandatory condo education for board members was controversial, you haven’t heard anything yet.

When a unit owner wants to sell their home, the buyer wants to make sure that the seller does not owe the association money. You see, if the buyer buys the property without making sure the condo, co-op or HOA isn’t owed any money, the new buyer will be stuck with the unpaid bill if there is one.  So, the new buyer wants to get what’s called an “estoppel certificate” from the association stating precisely what is owed to the association on that unit.   This will be paid at the time of closing and the buyer can now sleep well, knowing they are up to date with assessments owed to the association.

So the question is……..who gets paid to prepare this “estoppel letter” for the new buyer and how much does it cost?  Well, for condominiums, HOAs and co-ops, there is a current statute that addresses this.   Florida Statute 718.116, 719.108 and 720.30851 respectively.

The statutes state that the estoppel certificate must contain all of the following information and must be substantially in the following form:

1. Date of issuance:

2. Name(s) of the unit owner(s) as reflected in the books and records of the association:

3. Unit designation and address:

4. Parking or garage space number, as reflected in the books and records of the association:

5. Attorney’s name and contact information if the account is delinquent and has been turned over to an attorney for collection. No fee may be charged for this information.

6. Fee for the preparation and delivery of the estoppel certificate:

7. Name of the requestor:

8. Assessment information and other information:

ASSESSMENT INFORMATION:

a. The regular periodic assessment levied against the unit is $  per   (insert frequency of payment)  .

b. The regular periodic assessment is paid through   (insert date paid through)  .

c. The next installment of the regular periodic assessment is due   (insert due date)   in the amount of $ .

d. An itemized list of all assessments, special assessments, and other moneys owed on the date of issuance to the association by the unit owner for a specific unit is provided.

e. An itemized list of any additional assessments, special assessments, and other moneys that are scheduled to become due for each day after the date of issuance for the effective period of the estoppel certificate is provided. In calculating the amounts that are scheduled to become due, the association may assume that any delinquent amounts will remain delinquent during the effective period of the estoppel certificate.

OTHER INFORMATION:

f. Is there a capital contribution fee, resale fee, transfer fee, or other fee due?  (Yes)  (No). If yes, specify the type and the amount of the fee.

g. Is there any open violation of rule or regulation noticed to the unit owner in the association official records?  (Yes)  (No).

h. Do the rules and regulations of the association applicable to the unit require approval by the board of directors of the association for the transfer of the unit?  (Yes)  (No). If yes, has the board approved the transfer of the unit?  (Yes)  (No).

i. Is there a right of first refusal provided to the members or the association?  (Yes)  (No). If yes, have the members or the association exercised that right of first refusal?  (Yes)  (No).

j. Provide a list of, and contact information for, all other associations of which the unit is a member.

k. Provide contact information for all insurance maintained by the association.

l. Provide the signature of an officer or authorized agent of the association.

SO HOW MUCH CAN YOU CHARGE TO PREPARE AN ESTOPPEL LETTER?

An association or its authorized agent may charge a reasonable fee for the preparation and delivery of an estoppel certificate, which may not exceed $250, if, on the date the certificate is issued, no delinquent amounts are owed to the association for the applicable unit. If an estoppel certificate is requested on an expedited basis and delivered within 3 business days after the request, the association may charge an additional fee of $100. If a delinquent amount is owed to the association for the applicable unit, an additional fee for the estoppel certificate may not exceed $150.

 So, as you can see, someone preparing an estoppel certificate can charge in some cases up to $500.00.  This fee is typically paid for by the seller of the unit or home.  Management companies and law firms both say ka-ching when they are asked to prepare an estoppel certificate.

 Well, if that sounds unfair to you, it also sounds unfair to Florida Senator Jonathan Martin and Representative Persons Mulicka.  Each of them have now filed bills which would preclude associations from charging for estoppel letters whatsoever.  It has resulted in massive pushback from management companies and law firms alike, each of whom are the ones normally getting paid to prepare these estoppel certificates.

On the one hand, attorneys and management companies say that they deserve to get paid for preparing estoppel certificates because there are a lot of questions to answer and there is potential liability if they prepare it incorrectly. Moreover, they take the position that only the seller should pay for the estoppel certificate because only the seller is trying to sell their unit.  Why should that cost be put on every other owner in the community?

On the other hand, there is an argument that management companies are already paid to keep the ledgers of every owner.  It shouldn’t take more than a few minutes to let someone know what a unit owes.  Therefore, they shouldn’t receive an extra penny for preparing an estoppel certificate.

So which side is right?  I think there are good arguments on both sides and we can debate this forever.  You have to wonder though that if the fees that you’re allowed to charge were half of what they are now, would this ever have become a fight?  I don’t think so. I do think a compromise wouldn’t be bad here.

What do you guys think?

 

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Written by Eric Glazer

 

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19 Comments
  1. I prefer the status quo but I would love to know who is behind this bill. We all know politicians are bribed to sponsor a bill, rarely working for the sake of humanity and the common good

  2. The income from Estoppels has been a part of our business since its inception. The loss of this income would require us to increase our pricing that was just increased to adjust for inflation and the higher cost of living in Southeast Florida.

    The cost of an Estoppel is a very small part of any real estate transaction. Small businesses are the lifeblood of this great country. Elected officials should spend more time on figuring out how to make our lives simpler not more restrictive. The free market will always do better at making corrections to the marketplace than a bureaucrat.

  3. Application Fees also. Some Condos split the fee with the Management Company and charge more than the $150.00 allowed for that fee.
    $100 to the condo and $175 to the management company.

  4. Thank you for clarifying the bill. You are correct that in preparing the document there is a cost to bear by the preparer. Is this outside their scope of work. Good Question. The 2nd part of your clarification is the accuracy of the estoppel–ie liability in the event there is an error in preparation. I think a reasonable fee of $150 is practical to be born by the seller as their cost of providing a clear “conscience” of the property liability to the Condo/HOA.

  5. The management companies already have that info, and it only takes a few minutes to fill out. The seller and buyers are being exploited with many charges without justification. It is the same with the CONDO QUESTIONARY. Why do the buyers need to pay $350 for that and what happen when the buyer does not get the Bank Approval? Nobody gives them back that money. It is not right!

  6. I think $500 is much too high by $0 is unreasonable. Preparation is a special request for service and deserves compensation. The amount of work involved should be less than 1 dedicated hour. Therefore a$100-200 fee seems reasonable.

  7. No matter what side you’re on, there is always a debate about how much something costs. The fact that the information is so readily available from the management company should make anyone think that they are getting plenty for the estoppel letter. There is probably a program that simply collects the information from a database and just prints the letter. How much could that cost in reality (nearly nothing). In the big scheme of things though, no matter how you look at it, it’s just a cost of doing business as the buyer and seller. The fact that it comes up as an issue would indicate that this “baggage” charge is probably too much. It has value, so it’s reasonable to charge for it. I suggest $100 across the board seems more reasonable. Thanks -Art “Can we all just get along here”?

  8. What is going to happen is management companies will pass along those fees to be paid by the association. We have an AR department that deals with hundreds of phone calls daily plus walk in’s for owners not understanding account balances. These positions are paid for by the estoppel fees. If this is not going to be allowed, we will have to do away with those positions and owners will not have anyone to speak to about their questions.
    Our bookkeepers are busy coding, paying bills and producing financials along with speaking to board presidents and treasurers. We have approximately 86 accounts and hire four bookkeepers and their days are consumed.
    We will not have any funds left to hire AR clerks so this will be very difficult for owners to have to wait in line at the front office to try and speak to someone (if they have the time) or wait on hold for someone who also does not have the time.

    Kelli Burgess
    President & Partner
    Signature Property Management

  9. Fees need to be reduced. Obviously it doesn’t take but a minute to check on a computer if an account is current. Recently my client had to pay the estoppel twice while we waited for an approval letter, which was rejected, Found another buyer but paid the fees twice.

  10. We have management and accounting with different companies. Very costly.
    At this moment in time we need to make things easier for the seller. Many can no longer afford the increase payment by adding prepaid reserves. These fees for preparing this forms should be part of what they do.
    There are owners that are not behind. So, hopefully we don’t have to have a form filled out. Who ever will doesclosing should already know status.
    Keep in mind that we are paying reserves so we’re passing this to new buyers.
    Continued education should be a must.
    Owners should also take courses as well.
    I love the information you provide monthly. Not getting it lately.
    Please plead with Desantis to take it easy on retired folks on SS. We’re will these folks go. Is lower cost housing available ?

  11. I feel that if it a request of the buyer, just like a home inspection, the buyer should bear the cost.

  12. I agree that the management company should take care of this as part of services they are providing. Charging large amounts for records they manage and hold is a rip off.

  13. Estoppels should not be on the buyer – it should be incumbent on the seller as they are the ones initiating the transaction. Yes it protects the buyer, so they should receive the result. The management company is getting paid already, the estoppel is part of their job. They don’t charge the assocation for their regular hours, and an estoppel is their regular work, not unusual for them to have to prepare!

  14. I thought the estoppel fee was raised in 2023 from not to exceed $250 to $299. Is that not correct?

  15. I am on the side of the no fee at all. I have prepared many for our HOA. It only takes a few minutes and can be done on the computer and Emailed. (no paper)
    One Item that is overlooked is Taxes. This fee income is taxable by the IRS at a rate of thirty percent.

  16. I like the proposal. Management/Association can click a button to see the necessary
    information. There should be no charge for this to anyone.

  17. I think the preparation of an estoppel letter should be free when a unit is sold. Pulling together the data, that they maintain as a normal course of business, into a prescribed format simply provides consistency. It’s a normal component of running the business and likely doesn’t cost the management company any more than it costs them to answer an inquiry call. I understand why they are fighting the loss of this windfall given to them by the Florida statutes, but it’s time for the party to end.

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