Best Practices for Enforcing HOA & COA Rules

It is crucial for all homeowners to understand their CC&Rs and for property managers to assist board members when violations occur. Keeping lines of communication open between all parties will keep the peace, and help keep property values where they should be.

Our lives are governed by rules. Whether it’s stopping at a red light or remaining quiet in a library, many rules are a “given,” while others are learned along the way. When you purchase your first home, aside from reading the “Don’t” signs posted in the development, it’s general practice to learn from the HOA Property Manager or from CC&Rs as far as what is acceptable and what is not. Many rules stem from municipal codes, while others apply common sense solutions for keeping property values stable and keeping homeowners safe.

Maintaining Home Aesthetic Appeal

If a neighbor paints his home lime green, what recourse does the homeowner next door have? It goes without saying that while living under the auspices of an HOA, every homeowner must consult the Property Manager and the Board regarding major updates, such as paint, adding to structure, windows or landscaping. It makes sense to keep property aesthetics consistent, and if a specific paint color is required, every homeowner should adhere to this rule.

Property Managers should remind longtime homeowners too that they must consult their governing documents, the Board, and the Property Management company before any work is done on the exterior of a townhome or a single family home. If a homeowner decides, against the rules, after consulting with the Property Manager and Board, to paint his house a non-conforming color, he or she may be on the receiving end of a warning letter asking them to paint the home an acceptable color or face a fine.

It behooves the Property Manager to keep a list of each development’s requirements, as well as colors, manufacturers, materials, and contractors. Armed with this information, homeowners will be well informed about the kind of updates they can make. Association rules, in keeping with municipal codes, may also contain curfew regulations on days of the week and times of day when contractors are allowed to work. For example, if your city code stipulates that there should be no contracting begun before 7 am, and your workers begin work at 6 am, a neighbor may be within his rights to call the police, and either you or the HOA may be cited.

Health and Safety Rules

While aesthetics are important to property value, maintaining the health and safety of the development is equally important. Many cities already have codes limiting smoking, for example, and even provide HOAs with signs to place property-wide to remind residents and renters that they may not only face fines from the HOA but from the city as well. City codes governing smoking are especially critical in high fire danger areas, where an errant cigarette carelessly tossed can cause great property damage.

Other HOA health and safety rules include the following:

  • Pool use rules
  • Recreational facilities rules (rec room, gym, playground)
  • Common area uses (picnicking, pets, children)
  • Trash removal (limits on what is allowed, and weight thereof)
  • Laundry facility (hours, capacity limits and restrictions on how many can be used at a time)
  • Fire hazard mitigation (storage of toxic materials on or behind property or in front of parking spaces)

Enforcing Security Rules

For gated communities and complexes, security is an especially important function that not only ensures that residents sleep soundly at night, but is a property enhancement that adds to the home value. Many developments have rules regarding visitors, usage of designated parking spaces, keys and key cards, and leaving security gates ajar. Many others employ security guards whose job it is to maintain visitor flow and remain vigilant for rule breakers. In the event of a security rule being compromised, the Property Management company may consult with not just the Board, but with law enforcement authorities as well. It is especially helpful when making the case to warn or fine a residentto know the time of day and date when the violation occurred and use the HOA on-site security camera system to corroborate findings.

Property Management Company and Board Enforcement Strategy

Most property management companies and HOAs use an escalating strategy with regard to rules enforcement. First, there must be proof that rules are being broken by a specific homeowner (word of mouth, eyewitnesses, security camera footage). Once the Board, through its members, consults with the Property Manager to write a warning letter, the homeowner will be apprised of the penalty they should expect if the behavior is not corrected.

If the rule violation continues, fines will normally be assessed on a monthly basis, with the amount displayed in the monthly association dues statement. This serves as an ongoing reminder to the homeowner that the fines will continue to mount if there is no course correction.

In cases of egregious repeated violations, the homeowner may be the subject of a lien. This is an absolute last resort, as a homeowner may view this kind of action as discrimination or harassment. Lawsuits involving HOAs and homeowners yield inconsistent results and involve a lot of out-of-pocket expense, much of which can be avoided with a more comprehensive strategy involving all parties. In one circumstance at a California HOA, a homeowner found fines for storing in front of his parking place discriminatory. He indicated that Board members were harassing him to move items elsewhere. He was not only breaking HOA rules but in violation of municipal code. In order to prevent a threatened lawsuit, the Board settled on a 50% payment of dues assessed, payable at any time before the property sale.

Consistent enforcement across all rules for all homeowners is vital in order to prevent expensive lawsuits. This is why it is crucial for all homeowners to understand and read their CC&Rs and for property managers to assist board members when violations occur. Keeping lines of communication open between all parties will keep the peace, and help keep property values where they should be.