We have not paid our homeowner fees since early 2007, and I have received a notice of intent to foreclose lien from a local law firm. It states that if full payment is not received within 45 days of the date of the letter, the association will take legal action to foreclose my interest in the unit.

I understand that I owe the fees, but can they require me to pay in full in 45 days? Can I try and settle for a lesser amount or agree to pay them over time? Can they go back six years to collect? I thought they could only go back five years. And if I don’t pay, can the homeowner’s association take my home by foreclosing on it?

You’re probably going to need the help of a lawyer, and fast. However, with the information you’ve given us, we’d say you better be prepared to pay the association — in full! You haven’t paid the association in six years. Other owners have had to pay more money to cover what you haven’t paid, and that isn’t fair.

You should know that many, if not most, condominium and homeowner association documents give the association the right to place a lien on the property of any homeowner who fails to pay his or her association dues. The teeth to that kind of a provision is that the association has the right to foreclose on the lien. When an association forecloses on the lien, it goes to court (or takes other legal action) to take title to the property or sell title of the property to satisfy the debt.

Each state sets out the procedures that an association must follow to foreclose in situations like this, and you will want to talk to a lawyer as soon as possible so you know what to expect. Your state may also set limitations for collecting past-due amounts, but you’ll have to check what they might be.

You can try to negotiate with the association and see if it is willing to settle for less that the full amount you owe or if you can pay what you owe over time. Remember: You have failed to pay it for six years, and you don’t have much leverage against it. We imagine that the association board would have been much more responsive had you gone to it in 2007 and said you’d like to work out a payment plan. Now, not so much.

If you don’t want to lose your property, you’d better start figuring out how you will repay the association. Your lawyer can advise you on any other options you have.

Ilyce R. Glink’s latest book is “Buy, Close, Move In! Samuel J. Tamkin is a Chicago-based real estate attorney. If you have questions, you can call Ilyce’s radio show toll-free (800-972-8255) any Sunday from
11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Contact Ilyce and Sam through her Web site, www.thinkglink.com.