As an HOA Board member, how many times have you heard the excuse “I never got a letter” from a homeowner when attempting to collect fines or notify them about a rule violation? This is a common excuse that homeowners make, and while sometimes it does happen, HOA Board members should know about the Mailbox Rule and best practices they can do to increase the open-rate of letters.
The mail service isn’t 100% reliable, so it is possible that the homeowner never got the letter. However, more often than not, the homeowner just overlooks letters from the Association. They may not have “received” the delinquency letter because they just flat out didn’t open the mail. If they see that it’s something from the Association they might just choose to ignore it, thinking “what I don’t know can’t hurt me.” The homeowner could also toss the letter into the “open later” pile – out of sight, out of mind – where it gets lost in the stack of bills, magazines and coupons. It’s also possible that the letter is mistaken as junk mail and tossed into the trash.
If the process of collecting the HOA fees ends up in court and the homeowner admits to throwing away mail without opening it, a judge will usually refer to the Mailbox Rule. This states that as long as the mail was addressed correctly and not returned by the post office, the law assumes that the homeowners received it. However, it’s most likely that receipt of the letter won’t be assumed.
Whatever excuse a homeowner may have arguing they didn’t receive the letter, there are best practices that an HOA Board can put into place when sending important notices:
- Make copies of all delinquency letters and other notices that are sent to homeowners in case they are requested as proof.
- Keep homeowner contact information up to date. If a change of address was sent to the Association by the homeowner, keep this information on file as well to prove you had the correct contact address.
- Send the letter by regular mail instead of sending it certified. The letter is more likely to be delivered because no signature is required to accept it.
- If your governing documents require letters to be sent by certified mail, be sure to keep the delivery confirmation number with a copy of the letter.
- Keep a lookout for returned letters that were deemed undeliverable because of a new address, an incorrectly addressed envelope, or wrong postage amount. These are easily correctable and the letter can be resent.
Sometimes homeowners may quickly disregard letters from the Association because they always seem to bring bad news. While sending delinquency letters will always be necessary, try sending out positive correspondence too, like a monthly newsletter from the HOA Board or invitations to Association-related events. If homeowners are receiving good news from the Association too it just might increase the open rate of correspondence letters.