Maintenance Charge Increases When, Why, and How to Raise Monthly Fees

There are few things upon which most people agree, but a general dislike for paying more today for something that cost less yesterday is pretty universal. This goes for taxes, consumer goods, healthcare, and of course for monthly maintenance or carrying charges to a co-op, condo or HOA. But like it or not, the reality is that major building systems wear down, natural disasters happen, and the environment around a property changes over time. All of these will eventually mean an increase in what each individual shareholder or owner must pay in order to keep his or her community solvent and well-maintained.  

That said, it’s important for boards, management and residents alike to understand why and at what intervals fees should be increased. An open and honest board committed to transparency in its processes will have a much easier job conveying the necessity of a cost hike than one acting arbitrarily or in a clandestine manner. Similarly, residents who know the whys and wherefores of an increase are far less likely to grumble or resent their board for implementing it. 

Broadly Speaking

While every association is unique, there are certain commonalities related to why a maintenance fee increase could be necessary.

“Maintenance charges are going to be driven by a few different things,” says Sean Jordan, Director of Property Management at FirstService Residential in Canton, Massachusetts. “It could simply be that expenses are increasing, or that a short- or long-term plan is finally coming to fruition. For example, say that a piece of building equipment or machinery has become harder to maintain, and needs an increasing amount of service—or you’re increasingly repairing something because the association has been using it more. There could also be a change to a local ordinance that requires some work at the property to make sure it’s in compliance.”

Insurance can also be a factor. “Both general and liability rates could go up, as could utilities” says Jeanne Eberhardt, a property manager for Casagmo, a community in Ridgefield, Connecticut. “And cost of living increases can impact landscaping, snow removal, and trash removal.”

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2 Comments

  • Mike - well said. As a national provider of Reserve Studies (over 50,000 prepared for clients in all 50 states), we see all too commonly that associations fail to acknowledge that Reserve deterioration is ongoing and predictable... just like any other bill. Just because the roof doesn't send a monthly deterioration bill doesn't mean that that bill wasn't incurred. It is the board's obligation to provide for the needs of the association, and that includes ongoing preparations for inevitable & predictable Reserve deterioration. And those anticipated expenses increase each year with inflation, so it is wise to gradually increase the $ going towards Reserves each year to keep pace. Reserve expenditures are the largest expenses an association will face. They take years of diligent preparation. But the reward is sufficient funds to do the projects on time, maximized property values (curb appeal is real!), and owners who have paid their "fair share" over time and who have peace of mind that they don't have to worry about a special assessment.
  • I am a member of our buildings newly formed finance committee, responsible for analyzing the costs of properly funding current and future physical and financial health of our building and recommending steps to accomplish this to the board. We believe our best first step is to get a thorough understanding of all of the systems in the building, along with projections for costs of maintaining these systems over time. We believe that a reserve study is the likely way to get there. But it seems such an amorphous phrase... reserve study. IS THERE a STANDARD list of items that should be included/excluded from this study? I think we need to know because we get mixed signals about different "levels" of reserve study, costing different amounts of money. Cost is a concern but so is completeness/appropriateness. Would really appreciate any input. Thank you