Rules are meant to be followed. However, some homeowners unknowingly or knowingly violate these rules. What should an association do under these circumstances?
First and foremost, every association should have clear disciplinary and enforcement procedures (i.e., due process) regarding the handling of a homeowner’s violation of the association’s governing documents (Civil Code section 5850(c)). Think of associations as miniature governments in which each homeowner would have certain constitutional rights associated with their life, liberty, and property. Due process refers to the fact that in such matters, the association must provide homeowners with notice of the violation, the opportunity to be heard, and a decision upon neutral analyzation by the association (Civil Code section 5855).
For due process to be effective any disciplinary procedures and enforcement of such must be clearly delineated in a policy. The purpose of such a policy is to ensure the association will not arbitrarily or capriciously adjudicate enforcement matters. The enforcement policy should include:
- The method of how to report violations, whether by a homeowner or association agent (i.e., patrol, Board member, violations committee). Usually, associations have management companies and require that all reported violations be submitted in writing or email to management first.
- Clear steps on what is to occur when a violation is noted. An association might decide to send an initial courtesy violation notice to the homeowner stating the observation of a violation.
- If so, the association should include: (1) details of the violation (i.e., when, where, who, what, how); (2) cite the association rule(s) the homeowner violated; (3) include a photo or photos of the violation; and (4) request compliance within a specific amount of days. The time period for the homeowner to rectify the violation may vary depending on the nature of the violation, but the association should always adhere to what would be considered reasonable under the circumstances. Additionally, the association should mention that should the violation not be rectified, the homeowner may be fined pursuant to the association’s fine schedule.
- The association’s fine schedule should detail: the different categories of violations, fine to be assessed for each type of violation, and fines associated with repeated offenses. Please note that different categories of violations may have different fine schedules so that the fine fits the type of violation (e.g., short-term rental fine versus nuisance fine).
- If the initial courtesy letter does not prompt the homeowner’s compliance, the enforcement policy may delineate whether the association will be sending either another violation notice detailing a shorter period of time to correct the violation OR a notice regarding the hearing when the Board is to meet to consider or impose disciplinary measures upon a member pursuant to Civil Code section 5855 and Corp. Code section 7341(d).
- The second violation/hearing notice should detail the violation in the same manner as the initial courtesy violation notice.
- Note that the association must notify the homeowner of a hearing in writing and deliver the notice pursuant to Civil Code section 4040 at least ten (10) days prior to the meeting at which fines may be imposed, or at least fifteen (15) days prior to the meeting at which the association may suspend the member’s common area use privileges. A homeowner must have an opportunity to be heard and present their case to the association before they may be disciplined.
- If disciplinary measures or a monetary penalty is imposed, the association must provide written notification of this decision pursuant to Civil Code section 4040 within fifteen (15) days following the action.
- If levying a fine upon the homeowner in accordance with the association’s fine schedule does not induce the homeowner’s compliance, the enforcement policy may then indicate legal counsel involvement. On the other hand, the enforcement policy might detail situations where the association will elect to grant a homeowner an extension of time to abate the violation OR dismiss the enforcement matter entirely due to lack of substantive evidence against the homeowner.
- Note that in certain circumstances, the association may skip the standard enforcement procedures and involve legal counsel immediately upon notice of the violation(s) (i.e., cease & desist, dangerous situations concerning member safety, irreparable damage to association property will occur).
|It is quite important for associations to have a clear enforcement policy and to strictly adhere to such policy. If the homeowner’s violation(s) remained unresolved, the association might proceed with litigation, in which case the court will scrutinize whether the association observed procedural due process. Associations should look to their general counsel to draft or update their enforcement policy and ensure their management is familiar with the policy and its execution.|
-Blog post authored by TLG Attorney, Vivian X. Tran, Esq.