4th Circuit: Fontell v. Hassett- FDCPA and Homeowner’s Associations


Fontell brought suit against her Homeowner’s Association (“HOA”)alleging violation of the FDCPA, the Maryland Consumer Debt Collection Act (“MCDCA”) and the Maryland Consumer Protection Act (“MCPA”). When the district court did not grant her summary judgment on these claims, she appealled.

The Court of Appeals held that her assertion that the HOA violated the MCDCA by untimely bringing suit against her was not supported by evidence sufficient as a matter of law to grant summary judgment under Rule 56(a). The property management company, as it was always responsible for collecting the homeowner’s dues and not just after there was a default, did not constitute a “debt collector” under the FDCPA, as a default “does not occur immediately upon a debt becoming due, unless the terms of the parties’ relevant agreement dictate otherwise.” See Alibrandi v. Fin. Outsourcing Servs., Inc., 333 F.3d 82, 86-87 & n.5 (2d Cir. 2003). Lastly, because Fontell failed, prior to the entry of a final judgment, to properly allege her claims that the filing of a lien against her condo constituted the unauthorized practice of law, the district court did not abuse its discretion in considering such allegations.


Although, Fontell failed to timely raise the assertion that filing for a HOA lien constituted the practice of law, this does not mean that such a practice should not be prohibited. In North Carolina, claims of lien are filed with the Clerk of Superior Court, wherein non-individuals, such as a HOA, must be represented by an attorney. Compare this with small claims court, where that requirement is waived.

For a copy of the opinion, please see:

Fontell v. Hassett- FDCPA and Homeowner’s Associations


1. Bachelor of Arts degree in English Literature from Washington University, 1993. 2. Juris Doctor degree from George Washington University, 1996. Admissions to Practice of Law: North Carolina Bar, 1996. Federal District Courts for the Eastern and Middle Districts of North Carolina. Specialty Certification: North Carolina State Bar: Certified as a Specialist in Consumer Bankruptcy. Areas of Practice: Practice limited to consumer and business debtor bankruptcy law, 1998 to present. Memberships: National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys (NACBA). North Carolina Academy of Trial Lawyers (NCATL). North Carolina Bar Association, Bankruptcy Section. Lectures prepared and presented: North Carolina Academy of Trial Lawyers seminar on bankruptcy; Topic: Counseling the Consumer Debtor Prior to Court - C.Y.A. Forms to Help 'Gird They Loins'; 2001. Middle District Bankruptcy Seminar; Topic: Preparing Chapter 13 Plans; 2002. NACBA National Convention; Topic: Efficient Office Practices; 2003. NACBA National Convention; Topic: Chapter 7 vs. Chapter 13 Debates; 2004. Middle District Bankruptcy Seminar; Topic: Chapter 7 & 13 Hot Issues; 2004. Positions held: NACBA National Convention; Convention Chair; 2008. NACBA National Convention; Panel Moderator: Topic: Basic Bankruptcy Issues; 2008. NACBA National Convention; Panel Moderator; Topic: Chapter 13-Disposable Income and Other Issues; 2007. NACBA National Convention; Panel Moderator; Topic: Representing Members of the Military and Their Families; 2007. NACBA, Member of National Board of Directors, 2006 to present. NCATL, Chair of the Bankruptcy Section, 2003 to 2007. NACBA, Chair of the North Carolina Section, 2003 to 2007. NC Bar Association, Bankruptcy Section, Bankruptcy Council Member, 2004 to present.

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