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Does HOA accountant need to be a CPA?

By Michael Hunter By Michael Hunter
Michael Hunter
Charlotte attorney Michael Hunter focuses on community and condominium association law for the firm of Horack Talley. E-mail questions.

Note: This week’s question was answered by my colleague, Gail Pizetoski, CPA. She may be found on the Web at www.condohoacpa.com.

Q. I am the president of a self-managed homeowners’ association (HOA). We have always had a certified public accountant (CPA) or a CPA firm conduct the annual audit and prepare our financial statements.

The accountant at the firm who has been doing this work for us is going out on her own and would like to continue handling our accounting. She is not a CPA, but would be much less expensive than the CPA firm. Some board members are not comfortable with this proposal. They feel the word of a CPA would carry a lot more weight if we ever got into a dispute.

Our two questions: Would you be comfortable with the HOA leaving the CPA firm and having the non-CPA accountant conduct our audits, etc.? And could our treasurer make this decision alone, or should the board vote on it?

North Carolina accountancy law provides that anyone can practice public accountancy by paying a minimal privilege-license fee to the North Carolina Department of Revenue. The “public accountant” designation is a lower level of accountant qualification, below that of a CPA.

In the past, this designation was used to license non-CPAs before accountants were regulated by state accountancy laws. Most states, except for North Carolina and three others, no longer issue the designation. As a result, in most states only licensed CPAs may issue audit opinions on financial statements.

In North Carolina, however, it would be legal for your association to use a “public accountant” to perform the financial statement audit, but I wouldn’t recommend it. The public accountant doing the work in your scenario would not be supervised by a CPA.

She is also not held to the higher standards that a CPA is, and is not required to take continuing-education classes to maintain or enhance her skills. The association and the homeowners won’t have the same level of assurance they would have if a CPA performed the audit.

I wouldn’t recommend allowing your treasurer alone to make this decision. The board of directors should consider the issue and approve the action by a formal vote, since it would result in a major change.

Charlotte attorney Michael Hunter represents community and condominium associations for the firm of Horack Talley. Email questions to home@charlotteobserver.com. Find his blog at www.CarolinaCommonElements.com
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