Condos and HOAs create and enforce rules for several reasons. These rules are designed to preserve the value and well-being of the development or building, as well as the homes and facilities within the community.
Rules exist to keep residents safe and to set a standard of expectations for everyone. Rules let people know what is and is not allowed.
Finally, rules are made to keep the entire community happy and productive. They discourage owners from blasting loud music at 2am, or leaving junk all over their front lawn. There are consequences for breaking the rules, with fines being enough of a deterrent for most people. But there are some instances where condos and HOAs will need to rethink their rules.
As with almost everything, rules become outdated or irrelevant as condo and HOA communities evolve and time goes on. Associations can amend or get rid of rules altogether, provided they follow a specific process.
Boards are encouraged to review the community’s rules and bylaws every few years to make sure the rules still make sense for the condo/HOA. Otherwise, the association ends up creating unnecessary frustration for owners by upholding archaic principles. People strongly dislike rules that don’t serve a purpose or are counterproductive.
On a similar note, while it is important that rules are enforced consistently, there are almost always exceptions to the rules. For example, if someone makes a payment after a deadline, they will usually be charged a late fee on top of what they owe. However, if an individual owner reaches out to the board or manager to let them know they are experiencing financial issues due to a recent job loss, the association may be able to make an exception and create a customized payment plan for this individual.
When condo and HOA rules lack flexibility and insight, associations end up starring in real-life horror stories like the ones you’ll see below.
The good news is most of these examples are several years old, which makes us optimistic that condo and HOA communities have become more understanding and empathetic to owners who find themselves in extenuating circumstances.
1. A green lawn at all costs
A 66-year-old grandfather was jailed without bail because he did not take proper care of his lawn. The HOA he belonged to sent letters for nearly a year and eventually obtained a court order instructing him to tend to the dead grass.
While the man was given ample notice to take action, he was having a very difficult year and was doing all he could just to make his mortgage payments. He was eventually put away for failing to comply with the court order.
A stranger who happened to be a handyman and landscaper, read about the story and decided to take action. He removed the old grass. He received donations from the community and was able to purchase sod and have the sprinkler fixed. The HOA was satisfied with the work, and the man was released from jail. Unfortunately, he was still left with court and association fines.
2. Pick up your dog
Every time one woman walked her dog Ginger through the lobby of her ocean-view condo, it cost her $25. It’s not that she failed to pick up after her pet. Rather, she failed to pick the dog up physically.
The condo had a rule that pets must be carried when passing through the lobby. Other condos in the area had a similar rule. But, this woman needed a cane to get around since a back injury left her partially disabled more than a decade ago. As a result, she was unable to lift the 20-pound dog.
At the time this story was published, the woman had racked up $1,600 in fines since every round trip cost her $50. She had paid $600 of the fines.
3. Builders can advertise. Owners cannot
When one HOA member decided to sell her home, she put a for sale sign in the front yard – nothing out of the ordinary here. But a few days later, she got a letter from the association warning her to take it down or risk being fined.
This new HOA had a rule that prevented owners from putting “for sale” and “for rent” signs on their lawn. Flyers, posters and billboards were also prohibited. The woman was able to put a sign in her front window, but it was hard to see.
Here’s the frustrating part: while the owner could not post a sign on her front yard, many unoccupied homes in her neighborhood did have signs on the lawn. The builder, who had not yet turned the HOA over to the owners, was permitted to advertise so that they could sell homes faster. The woman suspected that the builder simply didn’t want any competition from neighbours. But the company argued that the rule was in place to help maintain an orderly streetscape.
Fortunately, the architectural standards can be amended by the governing board once the HOA is turned over.
4. Man forced to rebuild twice after tragedy
A man lost his family after a plane crashed into his home and fatally injured them. The man survived, and decided to rebuild a new home on the same lot. He had almost finished when his HOA informed him that the house had several flaws. The house was about 5 feet longer than it should have been, and the shingles didn’t conform to the rest of the homes.
The HOA threatened to sue if the changes were not made. The man did make the changes after trying, unsuccessfully, to convince the HOA to accommodate the flaws.
5. Thorny battle over roses
A gardening enthusiast was called out by his HOA for exceeding the prescribed number of rose bushes allowed on his four-acre property. The man didn’t take the warning seriously, which led the HOA to issue monthly fines, threaten foreclosure, and eventually take the owner to court. The man lost and was forced to pay the HOA’s $70,000 legal bill. Sadly, he ended up losing his home to the bank.
6. Mandatory dress code
An HOA passed a dress code for certain neighbourhood activities. Owners had to be dressed appropriately for garage sales, community gatherings, swim parties, etc. For garage sales, they were required to wear polos and khakis. If this code was not followed, members would be fined $30 for non-compliance.
It gets worse. Members were not permitted to share towels at the swimming pool ($25 fine if they did), and they also had to remove holiday decorations within three days of the end of the holiday (or they would be hit with a $50 fine).
7. Only talented artists need apply
Some lofts in SoHo and NoHo, two very trendy neighbourhoods in Lower Manhattan, are legally reserved for artists. The people who these lofts were initially reserved for must show that they are “fine artists” who create independent, original work. They must also have formal certification from the city in order to get approved for one of the lofts (as well as demonstrate that they need a large loft). A committee will actually judge their work and issue certifications based on the art submitted.
Today, in part because the homes are so expensive, many of the people who live in these lofts are not certified artists.
Condo/HOA rules are designed to support the community’s best interests and for this reason, should be reviewed by Boards on a routine basis. When a rule no longer does this, it may be time to change it.