Q: I have owned a condo for four years. I pay a monthly condo fee along with my mortgage each month.

I, as well as my neighbors, struggle with what we feel is an unreasonable condo fee, particularly because we don’t necessarily see what we’re paying for.

We don’t have a pool or community center for upkeep. Basically, the fee is supposed to go towards our lawn care, our driveways, and exterior “common area” places. Many of us have lawns filled with weeds, dead bushes and terrible looking lawns.

When we write to our management company or to our board, we’re met with unanswered emails, unanswered calls or irritation that we dare to bring a complaint.

I feel like I am throwing money out the window with paying a monthly condo fee of $165, and I just received a letter indicating this is going up to $185 per month.

If I get an attorney to get my questions answered and get my lawn taken care of and see the “bang for the buck” it costs money and I risk angering the board and my neighbors. But, I’d like to get my issues resolved. Do you have any suggestions for me?

A: With so many homes going into foreclosure or short sale, many homeowners associations are going broke. They simply don’t have enough cash to keep operations running in these communities.

Some homeowners associations are trying to raise revenue by charging residents and outsiders to use common-area amenities, like a pool, parking, and a workout facility. Others are cutting back on expenses and services.

Of course, some homeowners associations are badly run, or are being stolen from by thieves posing as management companies. Research Your Homeowners Association (HOA)

I don’t know what the case is with your homeowners association, but if you want to know what’s going on, start showing up to the monthly meetings. Ask for a copy of last year’s budget, the current year’s budget and the year-to-date expenses for the property. You should also ask for a copy of the building minutes and read what’s going on.

You may find that the fees are reasonable. Part of your monthly fees may go to pay for the insurance policy on the association buildings along with fees for utilities and repairs and maintenance issues. Often, people think that the fees might be outrageous and don’t see the benefit for the amount they pay. But you first need to see where the money is going to determine if there is anything wrong.

Once you look at the budget, you’ll have a better idea about the financial matters of your association. While the common areas may not be cared for the way you would like, you may find that the association has other, bigger problems on its plate and is doing the best it can without increasing the assessments even more.

If you find the association is wasting money, you could decide to run for the board, so you can have a direct hand in running the property properly.

Certainly, no one should be rude or threatening to you for making these simple and legitimate requests. If you are rebuffed at every turn, then you should talk to an attorney who specializes in community and homeowners associations who can help you explore additional options.

Jan. 19, 2009.