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Strata fee conflict sparks amnesty, call for closing loopholes

Published:Wednesday | February 20, 2013 | 12:00 AM

Avia Collinder, Business Writer

A local strata corporation is offering an amnesty to apartment owners in the hope that they will come forward with outstanding maintenance payments.

Meantime, others involved in strata management say loopholes in the legislation continue to make their task of collecting fees from homeowners a hard one unless they are changed.

On Sunday, Seacastles Strata - a development on the outskirts of Montego Bay in St James - announced a programme of amnesty with the promise that delinquent properties which are currently being processed for sale could benefit.

The notice did not indicate a cut-off time for the offer with the listed number going to voicemail.

However, Kadine Harris, manager of another strata property, Proprietors Strata Plan 401, a grouping of individual owners of apartments located on Main Street in Ocho Rios, says that legal loopholes favour the owners of units and complicates the collection of maintenance fees that are needed to pay for insurance, utilities, and other common-maintenance expenses.

We need stronger legislation; people are too laid-back because they can get away (with not paying) for a time," said Harris.

"If payments are 30 days late a power of sale can be generated, but if they make a payment of even J$1,000, the application (can be thrown out). The law has to be corrected to state that what must be paid is a minimum per cent of what is owing." Harris also contends that even apartment owners who are brought before the courts make only minimal payments.

"We have to go to the courts four times, if they are not present, before we can get a summary judgement which forces payment. With each court date being set three to six months apart, it takes too long. The court system is ridiculous," she said.

When payments are made, the funds are immediately applied against bills, which include debts owed to the National Water Commission for water and sewage.

Strata Plan 401 includes 174 apartments, with over 50 per cent of them at least three months or 90 days behind in payments, said Harris.

The strata management has not succeeded in selling any of the apartments owned by delinquents. This, she states is the result of several changes being made by the Commission of Strata Corporations (CSC) which requires applications for sale to be adjusted for each change. The CSC operates out of the offices of the Real Estate Board.

Of the 174 units and 10 shops, 30 per cent are currently up to date with maintenance payments, she said.

"Fifty per cent are delinquent for over three months. We need the money, especially for water and sewage, with our location near to the sea, the pipes burst easily. We struggle on a month-to-month basis to pay what is owed."

Insurance for the strata, she states, is easier to handle, as it is paid over a three-month period from all maintenance charges.

"When they think they have paid on the maintenance, the full amount is still owing because what is received is applied to insurance, whether they like it or not," Harris said.

An amended Strata Titles Act was passed in December 2009 with a view to making fee collections easier, among other reforms. There were 1,542 strata properties registered - at last count - with the National Land Agency.