The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court has just issued a decision that will serve to strengthen the already favorable statutory scheme that allows condominium associations to obtain priority liens in condo fee collection cases. The decision in Drummer Boy Homes Association, Inc. vs. Britton, SJC-11969, decided March 29, 2016, relies heavily on the Court’s interpretation of the Legislature’s intent in the condominium statute, Massachusetts General Laws chapter 183. According to the SJC, that intent was to provide condo associations with the necessary tools to ensure that condo fees are recovered so that associations can maintain properties and prevent community blight.
The dispute in Drummer Boy centers on the nature of the priority lien provided by Massachusetts G.L. c. 183 s. 6. That statute allows condo associations to file an action and obtain a priority lien for the prior six months of unpaid condo fees. The priority lien takes precedence over most others on title, including mortgages. Since the statute only provides this lien priority for the prior six months of dues, the common practice was for condo associations to file successive actions every six months to obtain priority liens for continuing unpaid dues.
In Drummer Boy, the Defendant challenged the condo fee’s right under the statute to bring these successive actions. Although the Massachusetts Appeals Court agreed with the Defendant, the Supreme Judicial Court overturned the Appeals Court and decided that a condominium association may file successive actions to create priority liens for continuing unpaid dues after the first six months.
The Drummer Boy decision means that condominium associations continue to retain powerful tools to collect unpaid dues, including the power to obtain priority liens on the unit for all unpaid dues. The Drummer Boy decision also affirmed the condominium association’s rights to obtain all legal fees expended in collecting condominium fees. Condominium associations facing members who fail to pay dues should not hesitate to contact an attorney to seek collection of unpaid dues.