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Overzealous Board Members: Understanding the Scope of the Board’s Authority to Enforce the Governing Documents

how-should-a-weak-leader-stand-up-against-butt-in-590b43b68caabHomeowners associations (“HOAs”) are governed by a group of volunteer members known as a “Board of Directors” (“Board”). Their primary responsibilities include: (1) managing the common areas, (2) managing the HOA’s finances, (3) setting policies to assist in the operation of the HOA, and (4) enforcing those policies along with the HOA’s governing documents. The Board is therefore vital to the effective operation and management of the HOA, as well as preserving the property values of the HOA’s members.

As indicated previously, one of the primary responsibilities of the Board is to enforce the governing documents. (See Posey v. Leavitt (1991) 229 Cal.App.3d 1236.) In fact, a majority of members purchase their units within the Association in reliance on the governing documents being consistently and faithfully enforced by the Board. However, that power may be abused in situations where a director uses his or her position to target and/or harass particular residents within the community. (See generally Nahrstedt v. Lakeside Village Condominium Association (1994) 8 Cal.4th 361, 383 (“Of course, when an association determines that a unit owner has violated a use restriction, the association must do so in good faith, not in an arbitrary or capricious manner, and its enforcement procedures must be fair and applied uniformly.”).) It is therefore important that the Board, and not any one individual Board member, take action to enforce the governing documents.

The foregoing is not to say that individual directors are precluded from observing and reporting violations. Indeed, a HOA necessarily relies on its members (including its Board members) to report instances where the governing documents may have been breached. Photographing the potential violation is not problematic to the extent that the photograph captures an area that may be observed from a lawful vantage point (e.g., the common area). However, upon observing/documenting a potential violation of the governing documents, the observing party must report that observation to the HOA’s community manager (“Manager”) so that same may initiate the procedures contained in the Association’s enforcement policy (“Policy”). Individual directors should never communicate directly or indirectly with residents concerning their ostensible violation(s) because doing so heightens the concerns referenced above.

Additionally, it is important to point out that the Manager is not acting on his or her own volition; rather, the Manager is executing the duties delegated to him or her by the Association. Therefore, the Manager is acting on behalf of, and at the direction of, the Association. This distinction is important because it underscores the fact that the action is being taken by the Association or at the Association’s direction, and not by any one individual.

In light of the foregoing, each Board member should employ the following procedure when observing a violation of the HOA’s governing documents:

  1. Any observed violation shall be reported to the Manager in writing and shall include any supporting information (e.g., a detailed description of the violation, photographs, etc.).
  2. Thereafter, the Manager, and not the observing Board member, must comply with the procedural requirements contained in the HOA’s Policy, which typically requires the preparation and mailing of a “courtesy notice” to the offending resident advising same of the alleged infraction.
  3. If the violation continues to occur, the Board should direct the Manager to prepare correspondence inviting the offending resident to a hearing before the Board.
  4. At the hearing, the Board may impose discipline pursuant to the Association’s governing documents.
  5. The observing Board member must not communicate with the offending resident at any point during the enforcement process (unless otherwise authorized by the Board).
California HOA lawyers The foregoing procedure emphasizes the fact that the HOA acting through the Board, and not any individual member of the Board, enforces the governing documents. Following this procedure will mitigate the Board members’, and by extension, the HOA’s, liability exposure.

-Blog post authored by TLG Attorney, Matthew T. Plaxton, Esq.