Rock Ridge Lake Fair Share Agreement
Frequently Asked Questions
Updated January 31, 2019
Update: Eileen Born, Esq. has all the titles she needs to make a determination on our options in this matter. She will be presenting to our membership in the near future.
Click here for the Title Review, April 2019
Click here for the Special Meeting Presentation from November 13, 2018
Click here for the RRCC Presentation from Eileen Born, Esq. from September 27, 2018
Click here to submit your unanswered questions about a possible Fair Share Agreement.
Final Report from Eileen Born Esq
What is a “Fair Share” Agreement?
A fair share agreement is a legal term for the responsibility of owners within an association to pay for its maintenance. The case law is based on easement rights of individual purchasers. An easement is generally the right to the land of another. It does not give the holder a right of possession of the land subject to the easement, nor is it an estate in land. The rights given to all property owners in Rock Ridge Lake for the use of the lake and common properties in the deed from the original developers to RRCC is an easement. As it pertains to our lake association, we are currently in the information-gathering phase to determine if this type of agreement is something we agree to pursue legally.
Why are we thinking about this idea now?
Our membership model has historically been an “optional” one. We have always relied on people who choose to become members of our lake. This makes budgeting very difficult, and it has caused us to increase our membership dues over the years. While we do everything we can to encourage new members to join and former members to continue joining, we never know how many members we would have year to year and therefore we never know how much we can budget. In addition, with rising costs of taxes and utilities, plus the variable of state-mandated dam upgrade costs, we never know if we can sustain ourselves financially into the foreseeable future. Furthermore, we continue to struggle with many of the improvements or maintenance items without fundraising. This is an unsustainable financial model.
What is the History of Rock Ridge Lake?
The Rock Ridge Community Club was developed with a lake with residential lots in a private, peaceful and rural setting in 1907. The lake and other properties were deeded to the Rock Ridge Community Club (RRCC) by the original developers for the enjoyment of the residents. RRCC became a community managed by volunteers. The community properties consist of a 40 acre lake, a beach, park areas, a baseball field and adjacent parking lot, tennis and volleyball/basketball courts, horseshoe pits, and the Rock Ridge Community Clubhouse.
How does the lake affect my property value?
All homeowners in our boundaries benefit from the fact that their properties are in such a beautiful, private community. Properties are worth more, and residents can all share in the enjoyment and beauty of this environment. Homes in our area have steadily increased in value over the past ten years after the housing crisis in 2008. This is because we are situated only 1.5 miles from the center of town in a peaceful lake setting with nearby lakes and streams.
What does it cost to maintain a lake and grounds?
Costs to maintain the lake and community properties are a considerable expense, and we cannot realistically maintain or improve our assets by relying on volunteer members. This means that over the years, areas of our lake and grounds are in disrepair and in need improvement. Members often complain about appearance, however there is not enough in our budget to substantially improve our grounds, remove fallen trees, or improve the quality of the lake.
I live near the lake, but I don’t join. Why do I care?
Since property values are tied directly to the health and beauty of Rock Ridge Lake, it is only fair that each property within the boundary contributes toward its maintenance and upkeep. A Fair Share Agreement is a way for the entire Rock Ridge Community to ensure that the beauty and the benefits of the lake, our community, and your property values are preserved for years to come. The “fairness” of this agreement means that properties gain value from being near our lake and therefore should pay their “fair share” for its upkeep.
Why do lake associations such as Rock Ridge want to do this?
There are many reasons. One simple ecological fact is that man-made lakes such as Rock Ridge are slowly filling in with sediment from upstream. With that sediment comes the nutrients for invasive plants, such as lilies and algae, to clog up once-free lake areas. This in turn creates less water volume and less depth for boating or swimming, and more invasive plants species thrive with lower water depth. With proper funding, we would be able to hire a lake maintenance company to hydrorake and remove invasive plants. In addition, with impending mandates from the state regarding the requirements for lake dams, we may be faced with extraordinary expenses to improve our dam to meet the new guidelines. These costs could run over $500,000. One other reason is that in our current volunteer membership structure, we can only budget for maintenance and can must fundraise for asset improvements. Lastly, just as property values can increase with clean grounds and a healthy, pristine lake, values can drop if the grounds and lake are not properly maintained or improved.
I’m a property owner outside the boundaries. Would I have to pay?
No. Property owners outside the boundaries would not be required to pay the upkeep fee.
I’m a property owner within the boundaries. Would I have to pay?
Yes. The Fair Share Agreement is a mandatory yearly upkeep fee for all property owners in the boundaries of the original tract of Rock Ridge Lake established by the original developers.
Why would I be required to pay?
The responsibility of providing for the ongoing maintenance and upkeep of the lake, its community property, and its dam was left to the Rock Ridge Community Club via the original deeds which transferred the ownership of the lake and properties from the developers to the community they created. In previous years the burden of the costs to maintain the lake and properties fell only on those who joined the Rock Ridge Community Club as volunteer members, although all who lived here benefited. With increasing costs and fluctuating membership, it is clear that this is not a financially sustainable plan. Nor is it fair that many property owners in our boundaries, some who have lake views or direct access, are not currently required to pay a dime toward the lake. Over the years, many homes in our boundaries have been listed for sale with pictures of the lake and grounds as a selling point, yet the sellers may never have paid for its upkeep at all.
What gives a lake association the right to do this?
The courts in the State of New Jersey have recognized and upheld the need for lake communities use a mandatory easement agreement for the ongoing maintenance of the easement over the lake, dams and common properties.
What is the difference between a yearly upkeep fee and a membership fee? Upkeep fees are only association fees, similar to the fees for maintenance if you owned in a townhouse or condo association. These fees would be held in a separate account. A membership fee allows access to the lake for swimming, boating, and all club-related activities.
What can the upkeep fee funds be used for?
Yearly Fair Share agreement fees would be utilized to upkeep the lake, clubhouse, and property grounds only. They would be used for those costs associated with the common community aspects of the lake. For example: lake treatments, dam maintenance, insurance, property taxes, and maintenance and upgrades to the lake and community properties. An accounting of the monies would be displayed on the RRCC website and/or available in paper format upon request.
Wait a minute. I thought my local taxes supported the lake.
Rock Ridge Lake is maintained by the Rock Ridge Community Club only, which relies on volunteer members to support it. We receive no tax dollars from the public or from the town to help meet the responsibilities for maintaining the lake our real estate assets. We also must pay for water, sewer, and garbage even though the township does not pick up our garbage. Our taxes are currently almost $33,000 per year.
I have lived in this community for years. Why is this coming up now?
For years, RRCC has been struggling to manage the lake and grounds solely on membership dues and the efforts of community volunteers. We do everything we can to preserve our assets. However, rising costs for lake maintenance, property taxes, and insurance have put a huge strain on the RRCC’s budget- funded solely by membership dues. We have resorted to using rental income and fundraising at each event to keep our lake and grounds clean and maintained. This current financial model of a volunteer membership simply cannot sustain the constant upkeep and costs to improve our assets.
I didn’t know I was in the boundaries of Rock Ridge Lake, so why would I have to pay?
If we pursue this type of agreement, the courts would decide which properties are within the original boundaries and with that would come the requirement to pay for the upkeep fee. We understand that some properties may not be close to the lake, and some people may not even know where the lake is. However, by law, each property within the boundary would be required to pay the annual upkeep fee.
I’m in the boundaries, but I don’t use the lake. Why do I have to pay?
We realize that some homeowners have no personal use in the lake, however previous and future homeowners may. In addition, your home has an increased value being in the boundaries of Rock Ridge Lake. The bottom line is that even though you may not use the lake, if your home is within the boundaries you would have an obligation to pay for its upkeep through this agreement.
How much is it going to cost me?
The final amount per year would be decided after we see how many homes are in the original boundaries of Rock Ridge. The Executive Board determines that we would need to annually upkeep the lake and properties, with consideration of any capital expenses such as dam or structure improvements. We would divide the amount by the number of homes within the boundary.
What happens if I don’t pay?
The property homeowners who do not pay the yearly fee would be subject to lien judgments against property or other legal action including legal and court fees. If this agreement is pursued and finalized, the Executive Board of Rock Ridge would make every attempt to work with property owners who may experience financial difficulties.
We would offer payments plans and other methods of payment to assist you.
Some people are saying just let the lake go. What about that?
If the lake deteriorated and the RRCC was unable to fund the maintenance necessities, the State would require extensive remediation to all the properties. The cost of this remediation work could be many hundreds of thousands of dollars that might result in fees assessed to property owners that could far exceed the Easement Agreement originally set up to preserve the lake, dam and common property. In the meantime, property owners would be left with an eyesore putting a huge drain on property values, instead of maintaining our lake. Imagine trying to sell your property, or trying to get a home equity loan and finding out that since the lake is a huge mud puddle, your property is now worth considerably less than you thought.
Shouldn’t people with lake views pay more than people who don’t?
No. The mandatory Annual Upkeep Fee would be the same for all owners within the boundary.
**This page will constantly be updated with new information as it becomes available.