When homeowners agree to buy a property and live in a home that’s part of a community association, they agree to follow the rules and regulations set forth by that association.
But, what happens if someone in the community violates or breaks a rule?
A Homeowners Association (HOA) Board is responsible for enforcing compliance with those rules. However, it can be difficult for owner members of the Board to tell their neighbor to change their behavior or remove something from their lawn/building without it being taken personally…plus with the property inspections, notifications, phone calls, etc. take a fair amount of time to handle. If a Board wants to smooth out the violation process it is highly recommended that they engage the services of a management company to do periodic inspections and communicate with homeowners regarding infractions and escalate them to the Board when there is not an easy resolution. Whether Board or professionally managed there are three general steps to take when handling violations, and we recommend you start with a simple notice before escalating to anything more serious.
Send a Courtesy Notice
This notice typically is sent to make an owner aware that something they did, are doing, or their property needs an improvement is not meeting the community standard as defined in the governing documents. This notice should be in the spirit to remind owners of their obligation to the Association and that the community has a responsibility to keep a certain level of care and maintenance. If this notice does not instill a correction of the violation within a reasonable amount of time the issue is escalated.
Send a Notice and Impose a Fine
The next step of defense for HOA Boards who have to enforce their rules is a fine. All residents in the community should have access to a list of fines associated with rules that are not followed. So, it won’t be much of a surprise when a homeowner receives a notice that a fine has been levied. Make sure the fine is reasonable, and make sure it doesn’t contradict the community’s governing documents or any of your state’s laws. For example, a $1,000 fine for swimming in the community pool after hours is a bit excessive.
It’s a good idea to have a written process that defines how fines are charged and collected. You don’t want to provide an opportunity for your homeowners to ignore or challenge the fines based on inconsistencies or irregularities. Put all of these consequences in writing so homeowners know what to expect.
When you send the notice, indicate the amount of the fine, what it’s for, and what the deadline for payment is.
Restricting Access to Homeowners in Violation
Another way to enforce rules is to limit or deny access to community amenities when a homeowner violates the community’s code of conduct or rules and regulations. For example, the resident who misused the pool may have pool privileges revoked. HOAs may be able to suspend a homeowner’s right to vote on matters of procedure or action until the violation has been taken care of. This is especially useful if a fine has been charged but remains unpaid.
Seek managerial or legal opinions before acting, because they can often violate state law and really escalate a situation within your community. If the dues your residents pay include utilities, it may seem reasonable to shut off the utilities until the violation has been remedied. But, if that household includes children, elderly residents, or people who are medically dependent upon things like electricity or water, you could run into some serious consequences for the owner and Association. Make sure the Board has the legal authority (whether via the governing document, state statutes, case law, etc. before taking any action.
Offer the owner an opportunity to meet with the Board to discuss the violation. This meeting will allow the Board to better understand the owner’s needs and the owner to learn more about the community’s need to manage the Association based on the governing documents. This is a great opportunity to find the compromise need to amicably resolve the problem.
Filing for Legal Action in Court
A final option for HOA Boards is to pursue relief through the courts. If you have exhausted every other means of holding a resident accountable to the association rules and they refuse to remedy the situation, talk to your Association’s attorney. Mediation and arbitration may also be an option in finding a resolution.
The authority held by HOA Boards varies widely throughout communities. Make sure you’re clear on what you can and cannot do while enforcing your rules and imposing fines. Also make sure your Board has been consistent in addressing all violations so that the Board is not in the position of having to explain why they enforce one rule and look past others. If you have any questions, get some expert advice from a management company. You can contact us at Community Property Management at any time.