How Much Should the Fine Be for Breaking the Condo Rules?

L.C. from New Haven County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I live in a mid-sized condo association where some residents would rather pay fines for breaking the rules rather than comply with the rules. We are updating our documents and rules and are contemplating a new fee structure for fines. Can you point me to a reasonable fine schedule that will deter residents from breaking the rules? As our condo documents were prepared in the 1970’s, very few of the fines seem adequate enough to deter the inappropriate behavior. Many residents would rather pay the fee and go about what they want to do. Thanks!

Mister Condo replies:

L.C., voluntary compliance with the rules is the ideal most condo associations strive for. After all, rules are what set common interest communities apart from the rest of the world. We hold ourselves to higher standards and are rewarded with better communities and higher property values. Since you didn’t give any examples of what types of infractions are occurring and what the current dollar amount of fines are, let me start by answering your immediate question. No, I cannot point you to a “fine schedule”.

However, I can speak from experience. Many communities use the $25 per infraction rule. This seems a reasonable amount to me as it is large enough to get someone’s attention but not so large as it could be considered onerous. More important to me than the fine is why the rules are being broken. Are residents unaware of the rules? You mention that some would rather just pay the fee and go about what they want to do. What are they doing that is breaking the rules that they want to?

Equally important is how your fines are dispensed. There is a process that must be followed. When an infraction is reported, do you send out a letter of warning to the unit owner? That’s Step One. Do you follow that letter with a fine if the offense is repeated? That’s Step Two. Do you request the unit owner attend the next Board meeting to explain why the rules was broken and give the unit owner an opportunity to contest the fine? That’s Step Three. If a unit owner were to contest a fine levied against him or her and those steps weren’t followed, the fine could be dismissed.

Finally, consider some type of Public Relations campaign to educate unit owners about why the rules are in place. Generally speaking, rules are in place to protect, preserve, and enhance the common living experience for all residents. Breaking the rules isn’t just about paying a fine to do what you want. It is an offense against the entire community and runs the risk of devaluing property values. I would tell that story in my community newsletter and launch an all-out offensive to explain the value of rules and the importance of being a good neighbor. Best wishes!