Navigating the rules and regulations of an HOA can be tricky. It’s not uncommon for homeowners to receive a notice from the HOA board about a violation. This might even happen to you. Perhaps you broke the rules without knowing it. Or, you might have a legitimate reason for not complying. Unfortunately, regardless of the reason, an HOA or condo association does have the ability to enforce the community guidelines. How they respond to members breaking the rules varies depends on several factors including the type of rule that was broken and whether or not you responded to notices about the violation. So, just want can an HOA board do if you don’t follow the rules?
Actions a Property Owners’ Association Can if You Don’t Follow the Rules
1. Give you a notice
The first step in addressing a violation is for the HOA board to let you know there is a problem. The notice should clearly state the nature of the violation, what you must do to correct it, how much time you have to address or appeal the notice, and what happens if you fail to correct the violation.
The Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions documents (CC&R) should outline when and how these notices are sent. For example, a notice might be posted on your property, sent via mail, or delivered electronically. The board may also be required to send more than one notice before taking further action. No matter how you receive the notice, address it promptly to avoid escalation.
2. Ask or require you to attend a meeting
The board may need to have a conversation with you about the problem—especially if it’s about something more complicated than leaving a trash bin out by the curb. This is your opportunity to be heard and negotiate for an outcome that works for everybody. So, be sure to attend.
3. Issue fines or penalties
Any fines, penalties, and other actions taken must be in accordance with the written guidelines in the CC&R. If the violation is something you can correct (such as letting your grass get too tall), the HOA or condo association must usually give you notice before they fine you or levy penalties. If they fail to do so, you may be able to successfully appeal the fine and have it reversed if you correct the violation promptly.
Address fines and penalties as soon as possible to keep the costs from spiraling out of control. State law may set limits on the fees that can be assessed or otherwise prevent your HOA from charging unreasonable fines or “enforcement assessments.” For example, there might be a limit on the fine per incident, per day, or the cumulative total of fines for an ongoing violation. If fines seem excessive, do some research to find out if they violate the state rules governing HOAs.
4. Restrict your use of amenities
Your access to common areas such as a pool, fitness center, or other amenities may be temporarily revoked if you are found to be in violation of HOA, condo, or townhome association guidelines. This might happen if you cause damage to the amenities, allow unauthorized people to have access, or if you don’t pay your dues on time.
5. Call in the fire department or other code enforcement agencies
The most common reason for an HOA to call in the fire department is for code violations involving barbecue grills. A lit grill in the wrong location poses a hazard not just to you and your property, but to the entire community. HOA regulations are backed up by municipal codes regarding how close grills can be to surrounding structures. For traffic violations including reckless driving or parking near fire hydrants, other agencies may be called on to intervene as well.
6. Get an attorney involved or take you to court
Property owners’ associations don’t have a big budget to blow on legal expenses, so suing is usually a last resort. However, they may engage an attorney or collection agency to pursue unpaid dues or penalties. They might even decide to litigate if the violations are severe, intentional, and ongoing. If a legal matter is decided in the HOA’s favor, you may have to pay for their court costs on top of any fines and penalties levied. This could cost thousands of dollars.
7. Place a lien on your property
This is a rare but possible outcome if all else fails. An HOA doesn’t want to have a reputation for trying to take peoples’ homes away from them. That’s bad for the whole community. However, the CC&R guidelines will typically provide this as an option if all else fails. This lien might impede your ability to sell your property. Worst case scenario, your property might be put into foreclosure if you fail to clear the lien.
What to Remember about HOA Enforcement
The purpose of HOA or condo association fines and penalties isn’t to make money. It’s to encourage you to fix a problem before the situation escalates. If you feel the rules of your co-op or property owners’ association aren’t fair, that’s a great topic to bring up in a meeting with the board. You can also see about being elected as a member of the board so you can help create better rules. Either way, it’s always smart to respond promptly and courteously when your HOA makes you aware of a problem.
Learn more about HOA living and what an HOA can do if you don’t follow the rules. at our blog.