The cooperative and condominium industry is entering unfamiliar territory as a result of the effects caused by the novel coronavirus, COVID-19. With all non-essential businesses shutting down and the added sense that we have no idea how long this will continue, tensions are high and people are getting worried.
Adding to the uncertainty, many unit owners were already living from paycheck to paycheck and are now finding themselves temporarily furloughed or laid off. It is expected that unemployment benefits will only cover basic living costs, so monthly carrying charges are way down the list. The simple fact is that whether the resident experiences a temporary or permanent work disruption, the impact on their ability to pay monthly charges will fall on the board of the property to work through. In times like these we should treat our financially challenged neighbors the way we would want to be treated.
Let’s face it, in addition to managing unit owners who are behind on their maintenance charges, we also need to plan for commercial tenants not being able to pay their rent anytime soon. Lately we are mostly receiving queries from properties with commercial tenants, as a business needs to be operating in order to pay its rent for retail space, in addition to properties in moderate income neighborhoods where unit owners are already seeking relief. The Czarnowski & Beer team wants to support our clients in any way we can which is why we created this list detailing options for board members to manage cash flow and handle bulging budget deficits.
The scenarios playing out in our present-day reality are so daunting they create an extremely challenging situation for cooperative and condominium boards who are required to operate on a balanced budget. Any significant interruption of any source of income will force a budget into a deficit, but fear not, we have identified a few action steps available to you:
Reach out to residents and commercial tenants to gain a better understanding of their specific needs. Reaching out to these valued members of your community about their situation fosters a sense of good will, allows you to have better knowledge of the magnitude of the board’s situation, and affords you the opportunity to plan. Accumulate information on the anticipated income disruption and, where possible, gain data on its likely duration. Continued communication allows for budgets to be adjusted sooner rather than later.
Draw on the available balances of lines of credit line. Make sure to update cash flow projections for the added cost of interest and required amortization, where necessary. Do your best to document a plan to pay back the line over time. We recommend this step as during past financial crises, lenders have often capped lines of credit at existing draw levels or terminated unused lines. Better to draw funds now and not need them than to need the funds later and line not be available.
Refinance (or for condominiums obtain a loan). With current historically low interest rates, paying an early prepayment penalty might make sense. Consider a new credit line or a second mortgage. Depending upon the magnitude of any prepayment penalty, consider a simultaneous credit line borrowing. If a building has a mortgage with a relatively high interest rate, even just borrowing the same principal amount can result in significant savings in debt service. Some condominiums might consider placing a mortgage on the resident superintendent’s apartment. Keep in mind these actions have an up to a 90-day period of lost time up to closing.
Loan money from your property’s reserves to put towards operations. Maintain appropriate documentation of these occurrences in your board meetings minutes and include a clear plan to replenish the reserves when possible.
Postpone capital improvement projects wherever possible.
Resist covering a deficit by either increasing monthly charges or imposing an additional assessment. These options will likely increase the financial stress already placed on residents, thus making a bad situation worse
Defer payments wherever possible by entering /forbearance agreements. Debtors are aware that it is best to establish and have both parties agree to revised payment arrangements as, when someone signs an agreement, they are far more likely to honor the terms of a deal. Only where there is extreme financial hardship should you contact existing lenders and try to arrange for some forbearance in payment obligations. However, do not unilaterally stop making mortgage or escrow payments as some lenders might quickly place the mortgage into foreclosure mode. The bank that loaned you the money may quickly package and sell the loan to institutional investors that might not be as accommodating as one would hope.
Converse with your vendors and contractors. You and your managing agent have influence over these relationships and arrangements will need to be accomplished.
Resist your commercial tenant’s request to apply some or all of their security deposit against current rent. If the tenant does not survive you have lost money that could cover the building while trying to find a replacement tenant. Additionally, where you have a guaranty of any type applying security gratuitously reduces the liability of the guarantor.
Avoid the courts at all cost. Neighbors who for years may have dutifully paid their monthly charges deserve better. Let us all see ourselves as in this together and act with compassion.
While it is recommended that you consult an accountant to help you navigate your way forward, the points outlined here can show you how to prepare for disruptions to your property’s cash flow and significantly help you manage your property’s financial during these uncertain times.
The Czarnowski & Beer team is dedicated to providing timely, accurate information on all aspects of the CARES Act and the current economic crisis that affect our clients. If you’re interested in reading our full summary of the provisions outlined for coops and condos in the Act, download our guide here.