Tag Archive for: forensic accounting for HOAs

Homeowners Associations (HOAs) are typically formed by residents of a particular community.  The community shares common spaces and facilities such as swimming pools, parks, and clubhouses. The HOA is responsible for maintaining these common areas and ensuring that all residents adhere to certain rules and regulations designed to promote community harmony. While HOAs can be beneficial in many ways, they are not immune to fraud.  You may be wondering just how common is fraud in an HOA.

Fraud in an HOA can take many forms, and it is often committed by individuals who hold positions of authority within the association. For example, a board member might misappropriate funds or use their position to engage in self-dealing. Another instance when it is common to have fraud in an HOA is when contractors or vendors inflate their prices or submit false invoices for work that was not actually performed.

Unfortunately, it can be difficult to detect HOA fraud, especially when it is being perpetrated by someone in a position of authority. Many residents of an HOA are unaware of the association’s finances and operations, which makes it easier for fraudsters to hide their activities.

To prevent HOA fraud, it is essential for all members of the association to stay informed about its finances and operations. This includes attending meetings, reviewing financial statements and reports, and asking questions about any discrepancies or concerns. If residents suspect fraud, they should report it to the appropriate authorities and work with the HOA board to investigate and resolve the issue.

In addition, HOAs can take proactive steps to prevent fraud by implementing strong internal controls and conducting regular audits of their finances. These measures can help to identify potential fraud and prevent it from occurring in the first place.

Overall, while fraud in an HOA is not uncommon, it is possible to prevent and detect it with the right measures in place. By staying informed and vigilant, residents can help to ensure that their HOA operates in a transparent and honest manner, promoting a safe and harmonious community for all.

Homeowner associations can be wonderful. They allow for community building, upkeep, and beautification of shared spaces and entire neighborhoods, and can increase property value. However, they do come with the risk of possible homeowner association fraud.

Homeowner association fraud happens when funds are used inappropriately, irresponsibly, or even criminally. It’s important to be informed about—and have a clear picture of—how and why funds are used. Unfortunately, it is not unusual for funds to mysteriously go missing or be unaccounted for.

What Do I Do if I Suspect HOA Fraud?

If you believe the funds your homeowner association receives are not being used appropriately, there may be some fraudulent activity or even embezzlement happening behind the scenes. When suspicions arise, you must seek professional help in the form of a forensic accountant.

A forensic accountant will sift through past financial statements to determine whether any type of fraudulent activity may be taking place on the board of your homeowner’s association. Fraudulent activity includes both misappropriated and outright stolen funds. The conclusions a forensic accountant can draw are crucial in removing and prosecuting the person or persons responsible for the fraudulent activity, and in proactively saving the members of your homeowner’s association thousands, or even millions, of dollars.

How Can I Identify Possible HOA Fraud?

There are several ways to identify possible homeowner’s association fraud.

  1. Consider whether the budget of the homeowner’s association corresponds to the expenditures the homeowner’s association is responsible for.
  2. Pay careful attention to the vendors and services the homeowner’s association has chosen to use.
  3. Pay close attention to any financial statements the homeowner’s association sends to all members. It is important to note if all funds are accounted for. Additionally, focus on how much vendors and services are being paid. Do prices seem at all inflated, or do they match typical market rates for the area?
  4. Take stock of the areas the homeowner’s association is responsible for maintaining. Notice whether areas are well maintained. If maintenance is poor, it could be a sign funds are being used inappropriately.

Digging Deeper: How a Forensic Accountant Will Uncover the Truth

Even if all transactions are accounted for, fraudulent activity is still possible. Financial statements and accounting records can be modified and important information can be concealed, omitted, or even buried in financial jargon and complicated paperwork (it shouldn’t be).

Making sense of these documents—and determining whether fraudulent activity has occurred—is the job of a forensic accountant. A forensic accountant can piece together all record-keeping, or lack thereof, make sense of both available and lacking records, and determine and document the extent of any fraudulent activity.

A forensic accountant should also verify the existence of contractors and vendors, investigate whether contractors and vendors have official contracts and are being paid according to those contracts, and determine whether pricing matches local market rates. Because most HOAs are self-regulating, fraudulent activity is prevalent and continues unnoticed for a long time. The forensic accountant’s report is crucial in the legal process of recovering funds.

It is important to note a forensic accountant should be hired as soon as fraudulent activity is suspected; recovering funds requires litigation and time. Therefore, unearthing and prosecuting fraudulent activity in a timely manner is of the utmost importance.

If you need a forensic accountant, don’t hesitate – contact us today for assistance.

Homeowner associations (HOA) and condominium associations (CA) are legal entities set up to manage the operations and finances on behalf of the owners. Typically, the management team (administrator) selected to run the HOA or CA is comprised of other homeowners or condo owners. If a lot of thought was put into the selection criteria, then the administrators will be knowledgeable individuals with experience in management and/or finance. If not, the administrator can end up being someone who can barely balance their own checkbook, let alone manage the books and records of a $5,000 annual budget or a $1,000,000 annual budget.

Depending on the bylaws of the HOA or CA, a forensic audit of the financial books and records may be required annually or never. However, a financial audit is not designed to detect fraud. At a minimum, homeowners should be presented with annual financial reporting, but monthly is preferred. The Educational Community for HOA Homeowners states that 18 months is the average time before a fraud scheme is detected.

Given today’s unlimited resources in accounting software, monthly reporting is not cumbersome and provides more relevant feedback on the management of HOA resources.

Forensic Audit for Homeowners Associations and Condo Associations

So, when does an HOA need a forensic audit?

1. When you suspect fraud

While a financial statement audit ensures that all the transactions are accounted for, it does not ensure that someone hasn’t stolen or misappropriated funds.  This is the number one reason for a forensic audit. If fraud is suspected, if becomes imperative to contact legal counsel and begin a fraud investigation right away. The longer the homeowners wait, the more funds that can be absconded and the more difficult it will become to recover them if fraud is found.

2. When there is no requirement for annual financial audits

The risk of fraud increases when no one is providing oversight to the administrators and their handling of the funds entrusted to them. Even simple forensic accounting such as verifying vendors could be beneficial.  Investigating whether payments are being provided to contractors and vendors that do actually exist and the payments are as agreed upon in written contracts or purchase orders, can mitigate vendor fraud. 

3. When requested reporting to the homeowners is untimely and confusing

Most small HOA’s provide annual reporting of last year’s results of operations, last year’s budget comparison, and a proposed budget for the upcoming year. If your homeowners are only seeing collections and spending once a year, a lot of fraud can be buried in those reports. At a minimum, homeowners should demand quarterly or monthly financial reporting on collections and budget versus actual spending. When the reports received by the homeowners bring up a lot of questions or just don’t make sense, it is the responsibility of the administrator to clarify.  If the reporting is not quarterly or monthly and the responses from the administrator don’t make sense, a forensic audit is a consideration.  Forensic audits for HOAs can be tailored to ensure bank reconciliations have been performed, reserve funds exist, and overbudget items are all valid and properly authorized transactions.

4. When the administrators are not maintaining the property as budgeted

Another sign of fraud is when the property appears to be deteriorating, despite low outstanding collections of homeowner dues. The funds contributed by the homeowners seem to be falling short of the funds need to maintain the property or constant increases in dues that increase at a greater rate than normal homeowner costs. This could be a sign of misappropriation of HOA funds or kickbacks from contractors, and a sign a financial audit is needed.

5. When the administrators appear to be living beyond their means

While no one wants to judge someone else’s lifestyle, homeowner associations and condo associations are often close-knit organizations.  There is often a lot of gossip and private information that gets passed about. Not all gossip is untrue. When the administrators appear to be buying a lot of big-ticket items, going on a lot of vacations, all without a change in job status or lottery winnings, it could be a sign of living beyond one’s means. This in itself does not mean they are committing fraud, but if the management of the HOA is seriously lacking, administrators are unresponsive to inquiries and dues are increasing, it does not hurt to have a financial audit.

Remember that a well-run HOA or CA also affects your property value positively and is an investment for the owners. A forensic audit of the HOA or CA finances can only serve to help preserve property values and demonstrate good stewardship of owner’s investments.