A special assessment is any charge that your homeowners' association or management company passes on to you and the rest of the timeshare unit owners, in addition to your regularly scheduled annual maintenance fees.
A management company usually can pass on only fixed-expense increases, such as rising insurance premiums, to timeshare owners as a special assessment charge. A homeowners' association, on the other hand, can pass on any expenses it chooses as special assessments, from planting new rosebushes to building a swimming pool complex.
In some cases, a special assessment will be needed to pay for an unforeseen and unavoidable expense. This was the case after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, when insurance companies all across the United States decided to raise the premiums they charged on everything from automobiles to vacation property by as much as 30 to 40 percent. Most timeshare resort homeowners' associations did not have enough money in their escrow accounts to cover this big of an increased cost, so they had to levy special assessments to pass the newfound expense on to individual timeshare owners.
In other cases, though, a special assessment will be levied upon you and your fellow timeshare-unit owners to pay for something that the homeowners' association either wants or needs — above and beyond what is already budgeted for in the escrow account planning process. These types of special assessments can be as small as $1 per unit owner, to cover the cost of a new leather couch in a resort's lobby area, to $100 or more per unit owner, to pay for a more substantial purchase such as tennis court lights or a new ski lift motor.
When a special assessment is charged, you should expect to receive not only a notice of it, but also an explanation of why it is occurring. In the previously cited example of rising insurance premiums, for example, you should have received a letter from either your homeowners' association or your management company explaining not only the fact that rates had gone up, but also detailing what steps had been taken to negotiate better pricing — either from your resort's existing insurance provider or from that company's competitors. You also should have received an explanation of how the higher rates were scheduled to be paid for in future years, whether by way of increased annual maintenance fees or additional special assessments.
If you feel you have been hit with a special assessment without being given a clear explanation as to why it is necessary, you are perfectly within your rights to demand more information from your homeowners' association or management company.
Similarly, in the case of a homeowners' association deciding to levy a special assessment for the purchase of a new leather couch in a resort's lobby, you should receive an explanation as to why the association deems the couch necessary in the first place. You also should be given information about what kinds of bargain-hunting the home owners' association did when shopping for the couch that it decided to buy, along with a projection of exactly how the association feels this new couch will improve the value of the property in which you and your fellow unit owners have invested your vacation dollars.
In the end, the point to remember is that as a timeshare owner, it is in many ways your responsibility to make sure that your unit and resort are being taken care of in a way that will maintain your investment's value. Just because you don't have to mow the lawn with your own riding tractor doesn't mean that you should just let it grow out of control. Being active in — or at least aware of — your homeowners' association is a right and responsibility that you should keep at the top of your mind for many years to come.