Superman sheet-curtains. Concrete landscaping. Late night garage discotheques. Somewhere in California a homeowners association is attempting to solve for these rule violations. Their association manager is reading CC&Rs, rules, and the Davis-Stirling Act. They are calling attorneys and mediators. They send out letters quoting covenant enforcement policies and our Founding Fathers. They’re holding meetings and hearings and internal dispute meet and confers.
A community’s governing documents establish the aesthetics like architecture, landscaping, painting, and visual standards, and living environment – things like nuisance protections, smoking restrictions, and quiet enjoyment, and drive the key benefits of living in a Common Interest Development. All owners agree to follow the governing documents and the Board of Directors is responsible for ensuring that they do.
Despite a community’s best efforts, violations will occur. So, what are a board’s options when homeowners violate their community’s rules? Below I’ve detailed the 5 stages of enforcement, but since laws vary by location, check with your local community manager for an accurate outlook of your legal options. If you’re in California, join us at our upcoming webinar featuring Steve Weil, Esq. of Berding Weil, where we will tell you about the enforcement tools available to associations in California.
5 Stages of Community Association Rule Enforcement
- Customer service. Not every owner has memorized the CC&R’s, so they may not know that they’re in violation. That being said, consider human nature and how individuals react to discipline. Are you more or less likely to comply with a rule if your first notice of a violation is rude, aggressive, and threatening? Remember: we are attempting to control an aspect of someone’s home and life – which is a very personal aspect. For proper enforcement, start from the position of education and advisement. Time to send a friendly notice.
- Processing and documentation. Well, our disco host did not respond to our friendly notice of a nuisance violation. And all the neighbors can’t listen to Stayin’ Alive one more night. It’s time to step up our enforcement process. What does our enforcement policy say? Identify the “escalation path” of violations – first warning, second notice, final notice, hearing warning, “I’ll turn this car around, I swear,” hearing notice. Stick to your policy until the violation is corrected and keep clean records of your actions – those records might be important later.
- Talk it out. Due process is essential to a fair hearing and resolution of a violation. At the hearing, respect the homeowner’s viewpoint and listen to their side of the story. A compromise or reduced fine may create an easier resolution and prevent escalation. Don’t ignore the needs of the rest of your homeowners, though. While the owner attending your hearing process may have good reason for paving over their front yard with concrete, consider how that would impact the lives and home values of the other homes in the community.
- Money talks. So Clark Kent didn’t respond to letters and didn’t attend the hearing to take down those Superman sheets acting as curtains. Don’t walk away just yet. Go back to that enforcement policy and find out what fines should be applied, and if you can apply recurring/increasing fines until the violation is corrected.
- Bring out the big guns. Notices, hearings, fines, pleads, and long stares at the pool just aren’t getting the violation resolved. So, it’s time to evaluate the legal actions you can take and this varies depending on your state.
Community association board members are the champions of maintaining home values and the benefits of community association living, but sometimes the role also requires you to put on the enforcer hat to make sure the amenities that your neighbors love about the community are protected. It’s important that your board understands the legal underpinnings of enforcement authority and the enforcement process.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ian Brown is the Senior Vice President for Associa Northern California. Mr. Brown is a co-Chair of the CAI Bay Central Education Committee and a regular speaker at CAI and ECHO education events. Outside of the office, Mr. Brown enjoys running, the record breaking San Francisco sports teams, skiing in Tahoe, and fly fishing.
Work with Ian!