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Facts: The central issue in this case is the construction of a subsection in the Georgia Condominium Act which states that "No unit owner other than the association shall be exempted from any liability for any assessment under this Code section or under any condominium instrument for any reason whatsoever, including, without limitation, abandonment, nonuse, or waiver of the use or enjoyment of his unit or any part of the common elements."
Forest Villas Condominium Association, Inc operates a condominium while Camerio and Elliot are owners of 23 of the 94 units in the Association. A civil suit was filed by the former against the latter seeking to recover the amount of $28,600 in arrearage of condominium fees, interests on the said arrearage and the other assessments for the year. Defendants denied the material allegations in the complaint of Forest Villas. Among others, they filed a counterclaim that the association failed to honor its obligations to perform maintenance and make repairs on the units owned by defendants. They alleged that because of the association’s failure to make repairs they were forced to pay for the repairs themselves. They also sought an accounting of all the monies handled by the association and a reimbursement for all the expenses they incurred due to the breach of duty committed by the association.
In view of the admission of the defendants of their liability, Forest Villas filed a motion for summary judgment arguing that OCGA § 44-3-80(d) did not permit a unit owner any exemption from liability for assessments. They argued that the claims being sought by the defendants against them do not entitle them to refuse payment for their arrearages. In addition, the association argued that defendants' counterclaim sounded in equity and was beyond the authority of the state court.
Issue: whether the trial court erred in the construction of OCGA § 44-3-80 by alleging that the said statute did not prohibit that the defendants from refusing the payment of the assessments charged to them.
Procedural Posture: The lower court denied the motion arguing that the word ‘exempt’ in the said statute does not mean that the defendants could never have any justification for withholding the assessments charged to them. Also, it ruled that there the motion for summary judgment was not proper considering that there were genuine issues of material fact.
Holding: Thus, the appellate court ruled that the trial court’s judgment be reversed and that the motion of the plaintiff association for summary judgment on the defendants’ liability be partially granted.
Legal Reasoning: The statute provides that "No unit owner other than the association shall be exempted from any liability for any assessment under this Code section or under any condominium instrument for any reason whatsoever, including, without limitation, abandonment, nonuse, or waiver of the use or enjoyment of his unit or any part of the common elements."
It is a general rule in statutory construction that if the language of the statute is clear then there is no room for interpretation and construction but only its application. In this case, the language is plain and susceptible of only one interpretation. There is no legal justification for a condominium owner to fail to pay valid condominium assessments. This reflects a clear choice by the legislature that the owner's obligation to pay assessments is absolute and a condominium unit owner involved in a dispute with the condominium Association about its services and operations may not exert leverage in that controversy by withholding payment but must seek other remedy. The obligation to pay the assessment is independent of the Association's obligations to provide services. This is necessary because the communal business of the condominium Association for the benefit in common of all condominium owners continues unabated during the pendency of any such individual dispute. The public policy expressed in the statute assures that fulfillment of obligations and the functioning of a condominium Association as a whole not be jeopardized or compromised by individual disputes, which may or may not be meritorious. In effect, the higher court said that the unit owner is not justified from withholding payment of its arrears regardless of its defenses and the allegations. Any other interpretation of the statute would seriously hamper the operations and the services being provided by the condominium association.
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