D.S. from Fairfield County writes:
Dear Mister Condo,
What can the Association do when condo owners don’t follow the rules?
Mister Condo replies:
D.S., associations rely on unit owners to follow the rules to maintain peaceable enjoyment for all unit owners and residents. In the ideal community, residents have read the rules and regulations before agreeing to become members and residents. However, very few communities can boast of no rules violations. The trick is keeping the violations to a minimum and resident satisfaction at a maximum. That’s where the Rules Enforcement provisions of the association come into play.
Start with your association’s governing documents. There is usually a section about rules and regulations and what can be done to enforce the rules. The Board is generally empowered by the governing documents to enforce the rules as they see fit. Depending on where your association is located, there may also be rules about community association governance that supersede the association rules. Such is the case here in Connecticut where most community associations are bound by the Common Interest Ownership Act (commonly referred to as CIOA). CIOA requires that Boards follow a specific procedure for issuing fines. On the first offense, a warning is issued and the unit owner is notified of the violation and asked to appear before the Board to explain why the violation occurred. Subsequent violations require no additional opportunity for the unit owner to appear before the Board and the Board is free to levy whatever fines are called for in the association’s by-laws. An exception to this would be something like parking in a fire lane where the Board can exercise its authority to have the offensive vehicle removed (towed) at the expense of the owner.
If your association does not have a penalty system of fines in place, the first step is to adopt one. I generally recommend a small fine amount like $25 per occurrence and a graduated fine system for repeat offenders. Keep in mind that fines are not meant to be income for the association; they are meant to be a deterrent for unit owners who do not follow the rules. In some cases, legal counsel may be necessary to do more than just fine an offender. For instance, if the rule is that no rentals are allowed and there are clearly renters living in the unit, the association may sue the unit owner and seek eviction. Similarly, if pets are not allowed and pets are being housed in the unit, a lawsuit may be the only remedy available to the association.
Keeping in mind that voluntary compliance with the rules is the goal of the association, I think it is well advised to have a rules review every so often, either by committee or by the entire Board. The rules are meant to be in the best interest of the community and are used to help protect, maintain, and enhance the community association living experience. Rules cannot be applied selectively. That is to say the Board cannot enforce the “no smoking” rule on one unit owner without enforcing the rule on all unit owners or the Board may face charges of discrimination. Also, the Board has discretion in selecting which rules it will enforce but it must do so unilaterally, meaning if it does not enforce the no pets rule on one unit owner, it cannot enforce the rule on another. The best policy is to either enforce the rule or remove the rule. That way, residents know what to expect and the Board cannot be accused of discrimination. All the best!