One of the reasons communities with HOAs are such an enjoyable place to live is due to their community benefits, including services, aesthetics, safety, and more. These things only exist because the community operates under rules outlining how all of those amenities will work. Homeowners agree to those rules in exchange for having a safe and well-organized community to live in.
It is the board’s responsibility to make sure all of the rules are followed. If homeowners break the rules and the board does not enforce them, the entire community suffers, and all the amenities can be impacted. Unfortunately, the other homeowners who follow the rules will lose out on the benefits they signed up for and are entitled to receive.
What Are the Rules
HOAs are run under the guidelines set up by the governing documents. These usually include Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions (CC&Rs), Bylaws, and Declarations. Like many other things in an HOA, these must comply with local, state, and federal laws.
Those laws can change, so it is crucial to stay on top of them and adjust your governing documents as necessary. If your governing documents are different than the law, the law will win out every time. You won’t legally be able to enforce anything in violation of the laws.
The most common things HOA rules cover are:
- Fees and or dues
- Pet Regulations
- Rental Guidelines
- Maintenance and Architecture Standards (such as landscaping, fence height, etc.)
- Limits on Occupancy
- Parking Regulations
- Guidelines on Common Areas or Facilities
- Noise Restrictions
The above are only some of the most common HOA rules; there can be many others. In most cases, the rules listed will have a detailed description of how each rule needs to be implemented and followed.
Are the Rules So Important?
Enforcement of the rules is one of the most critical responsibilities of the board. If regulations are not being followed, the entire community can fall apart. This leads to amenities deteriorating, funding being undermined, unhappy homeowners, and blame placed on the board. And if homeowners did not want to live in a community with these rules, they wouldn’t have chosen to buy property there.
Not only is it in the best interest of the entire community for the rules to be enforced, but it is one of the duties each member of the board agrees to put in place. Homeowners can take action if they feel the board is not fulfilling this duty, which is not a position any board would prefer.
If there are rules or regulations the board feels are unnecessary or outdated, they can amend those documents. This is a better solution rather than ignoring the situation.
Enforcement of the Rules
Ensuring everyone in the community is following the rules is necessary to provide a safe and fun environment. But when rules are broken and action needs to be taken, it can be challenging for even the most committed board member. Below are a few tips that can make the job a little easier.
First, the HOA should enforce the rules both consistently and fairly. Letting some homeowners slide while the board cracks down on others will breed resentment and undermine the board’s authority. And part of that consistency is enforcing all of the regulations. If some are ignored, it can cause confusion among homeowners on what is expected of them. The only guidelines they have are the governing documents.
There can be more significant problems for the board if the rules aren’t enforced uniformly. They can open themselves up to unnecessary lawsuits or other legal action by homeowners.
The HOA should outline the enforcement of the rules step by step in the governing documents with a detailed description of each rule. This also includes the escalation of financial penalties. The first step is to issue a written letter warning the homeowner of the problem and allowing a specific time for it to be corrected before the HOA imposes any fines. It should also include a specific deadline as to when the resident needs to comply.
Dealing With HOA Fines
In most cases, fines are typically added to rules to give them more power to make sure people will comply. The penalties must be stipulated and consistently enforced throughout the HOA. Generally, the act of enforcement is a process, not a one-time event.
The process should typically begin with a standard warning letter. This will give people who have a lapsed or non-compliant issue an opportunity to fix the problem without any financial impact. The fines usually aren’t a one-time penalty but will be ongoing until the problem is resolved.
For instance, if a homeowner has a fence installed that isn’t in compliance with the HOA guidelines, they might be fined every week until the fence is removed. To ensure that the fines are fair, many HOAs have an escalating fine structure for specific rules. This helps provide enforcement without the initial penalty being too severe that the resident can’t afford to pay it.
If the fines aren’t paid, the board can take further action by placing a lien on the home. They can also pursue foreclosure or other legal action. The homeowner can also object if they feel they are not being treated fairly. This can lead to a hearing in an open meeting and progress to the resident taking further legal action.