“No shirt, no shoes, no service.” “You break it you buy it.” “Handicap parking only.” “ID required for purchasing alcohol.” These are just some of the rules we encounter and adhere to outside our homes. Breaking those rules can sometimes get you in hot water, but what about breaking the rules of where you live?
A community that is governed by a homeowner’s association will have a complete set of Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions otherwise known as CC&Rs. Each prospective owner is given a copy of the CC&Rs as part of a condition of purchase. They have to acknowledge they’ve read the rules with the intent to follow them.
Here’s a little secret: most prospective buyers will skim through these rules and only focus on the ones that matter most to them – like owning a pet or having a washing machine in their unit. Everything else is brushed over that is until one of those rules is broken. Then the CC&R binder is busted out of the storage drawer. At that point it might be too late to avoid an infraction but it’s up to the HOA as to how far they will take enforcement.
Here are some methods that a HOA can use to enforce the rules:
It could all be an innocent mistake. The new homeowner probably had no idea they couldn’t hang Christmas lights from the balcony. Usually, the first step for the HOA is to issue a warning. This should be in writing and make reference to the specific CC&R rule at issue. Hopefully, the resident will decry “mea culpa” and undo the mistake.
This is the most common recourse for enforcing a CC&R. It’s also the most problematic. A person who feels they have the right to break the rule won’t necessarily feel obligated to pay a fine. When that happens, more fines come their way which involves the HOA lawyers. In addition to the fines, the rule breaker could also end up paying legal fees. The longer the fines go unpaid the more penalties get racked up.
If a HOA is forced to institute a lien, the situation is serious. This step is usually a precursor to a court battle. A lien isn’t a guarantee of payment but has the power of intent behind it. If for some reason the owner is going to pull up stakes and sell, part of the proceeds could pay back what is owed to the HOA as part of the lien settlement. This might scare off a new buyer.
Who Enforces the CC&Rs?
Hopefully, the HOA will treat every resident equally. There have been instances of HOAs running amok when it comes to rule enforcement. Both extremes of over enforcing and under enforcing are detrimental to residents’ quality of life. In some cases it might be time for the non-board members to band together and clean house. Rule enforcement is another terrific benefit of engaging the services of a professional property management team. Think of them as the “bad cop” to your HOA “good cop.” The property management staff can issue all the warnings, collect the fines or even take the resident to court.