Living in any community means there are rules to follow. The police enforce the law by writing tickets, issuing warrants, or making arrests. Schools enforce policies for students by taking away recess, sending them to speak with the principal, or giving extra tasks to do. There are also rules when you live in a homeowners association. How strict or lenient these HOA rules can be is unique to each association, but there’s one thing all HOAs should have in common: enforcement of the rules.
How does an association enforce its rules?
Most HOAs have rules, which can be found in the CC&Rs, so typically they should also have a fine schedule if the rules are violated. Through fines, the HOA board is able to enforce the rules of the association. But it can be a lengthy, multi-step process – especially when homeowners don’t comply.
For example, a basic process in California may look something like this:
- The homeowner is notified of the violation within a specific timeframe of the violation occurring
- If the violation isn’t solved, the homeowner may be called to a hearing
- The board hears what the homeowner may have to say about the violation
- The board determines whether a solution has been met
- The board may decide to issue a fine
This process varies depending on the homeowners association, but it’s critical that there’s a process in place.
What happens if the owner doesn't show up for the hearing?
If the violation isn’t corrected in a reasonable amount of time or by the deadline given in the violation letter, then the board may call a hearing with the homeowner. If it gets to this point, but the owner doesn’t show up to the hearing, the HOA board can still move forward with the hearing to determine next steps. The board would then follow the hearing up with another letter to the owner that states their decision.
Let’s say the HOA board decides to issue a $50 fine. A letter is sent to the owner stating they’ve been issued a $50 fine for violating the HOA rules. Here’s what could happen next:
- The owner receives the letter and decides to contest – it’s probably a good idea to contact your association attorney at this point.
- The owner says they’ve already corrected the violation – the board can verify this and rescind the fine.
It really comes down to the board having the right perspective – the goal isn’t to make money from fining homeowners for HOA rule violations, but instead to have a way to enforce compliance within the association and maintain the quality of life.
What can a board do if it’s a safety issue?
If a homeowner has violated an HOA rule, been sent a letter, fined, and been given ample opportunity to make it right, but the violation is posing a safety issue for a neighboring home or unit, the board can act – but should first consult the homeowners association attorney.
For example, there was a home in an association that had trees in the front yard with precarious limbs that could have broken, fallen, and injured peopled. This was posing a serious safety issue. The owner was not responding to letters or doing anything about the dangerous trees.
Once the HOA gave proper notice as outlined in the governing documents, and there was no action taken by the homeowner, the HOA hired a company to go onto the property and remedy the safety hazard. The owner came out and was upset at first, but then he paid the bill and asked them to do some extra work!
In this situation, it all worked out well, but if the owner wasn't on site and the work was done, the association can charge the owner back for the work. It’s important to emphasize that you must be careful about going onto someone else’s property. This could be putting your vendors in danger by essentially trespassing on someone’s property. Most governing documents allow for the association to enter onto someone’s lot or into their unit to make repairs that are a serious safety concern when the owner refuses.
If you’re ever unsure, remember to read the governing documents and always consult your attorney first.
If you feel like enforcing HOA rules is a challenge for your Board, resulting in issues that never get resolved and homeowners thinking they can get away with whatever they want, discover how you can handle violations in your HOA in our latest on-demand webinar available by clicking below.