When it comes to rule enforcement and violations, it seems that HOAs are always the topic of discussion. But condo developments are required to enforce rules and bylaws as well. In fact, it’s imperative that violations are promptly addressed in condo buildings. While a noisy neighbor may impact one household in a neighborhood of single-family homes, an inconsiderate owner will usually bother three or four other units in a condominium.
In this article, we’ll focus on some of the most common condo violations, as well as how to effectively handle repeat offenders.
Common condo violations
Every condominium is required to operate according to its governing documents. The rules and bylaws apply to anyone who lives in or visits the condo building. From time to time, be it on purpose or by mistake, someone will break a rule.
While people living in single-family homes are more likely to break rules pertaining to landscaping, exterior storage or design changes, noise and odor infractions are more common in densely populated condos. Below are some of the most common condo violations:
Noise complaints are one of the most common condo issues. This is simply because neighbors share a wall and are more easily disturbed by sounds. It’s important to note that residents cannot expect absolute quiet, but they should not have to suffer through a late-night party, either.
Examples of common noise issues include:
- Neighbors playing loud music or having a party
- A barking dog
- Children running or screaming
Pets are like family to many condo residents. But it’s understandable why some neighbors—even those that have their own pets—get annoyed when residents don’t pick up after their pets or do anything to stop their dogs from barking all of the time.
Examples of pet issues include:
- Owning a pet that the association/corporation has banned
- Pets that damage common elements
- A resident that does not clean up after the pet
- A resident that allows the pet to bark or make noise all of the time
Condo boards and management should know that a service animal is not considered a pet. Dogs are the most common species of service animals, but any type of animal can be a service animal. In almost all cases, a condo cannot prevent a resident from keeping a service animal.
Complaints about strong, noxious odors are common condo issues. More often than not, an odor complaint has to do with smoking. But offensive smells can also be a result of maintenance issues, such as mold or a malfunction with the garbage chute. Sometimes, it can be difficult to identify the source of an odor.
Examples of odor issues include:
- The smell of mold or moisture in a unit or a common element
- Cooking smells traveling from one unit into another unit
- Cigarette or marijuana smoke infiltrating another unit
- The smell of garbage traveling from one unit into another unit
4. Short-term rentals
Airbnb and other short-term rental platforms have become very popular. Condo owners have the opportunity to make a bit of extra income by renting out their space, while travelers can live like the locals while exploring a new city. However, short-term rentals have also attracted guests that want to use someone else’s space to throw wild parties, angering many condo communities. Owners may also be concerned about strangers constantly coming into the building. As a result, short-term rentals have been banned in some condos.
Examples of short-term rental issues include:
- Renters using the unit as a party room
- Renters misusing amenities
- An owner or resident renting out their unit to short-term renters in a building where short-term rentals are not allowed
Parking can be tricky to manage. Even if a staff member can confirm that the car is parked in a spot that it shouldn’t be in, the owner may be hard to track down. There are only a limited number of spots in a condo development, which can create all sorts of parking issues for residents and guests.
For example, parking issues can arise if residents:
- Take up guest parking spots
- Park in spots that don’t belong to them
- Lease parking spots when they don’t have the authority to lease them
What to do when residents break the rules
If an infraction is reported, someone must follow up. Although a condo manager will usually handle violations and enforcement, it is ultimately up to the board to ensure rules are enforced. Board members have a legal obligation to do this.
All reports relating to infractions should be taken seriously. It’s crucial that incidents or reports are documented so that, if the problem does escalate, management can prove that steps were taken to try and resolve the issue as soon as they were made aware of it.
Every condo will have its own process for handling violations, and those steps can usually be found in the CC&Rs. However, you can get a clear idea of how to proceed when someone breaks the rules by reading the information below.
Check the condo’s governing documents first
In most cases, associations/corporations can’t impose harsh sanctions on a first-time offender, even if they knowingly broke a rule. There may be exceptions if the person’s actions resulted in someone else getting hurt.
As mentioned before, different condos have different processes, and some states may even require condominiums to follow specific steps when addressing violations. If your state doesn’t have pre-existing violation rules, then the association is responsible for carrying out standardized protocols. Refer to your governing documents and follow each step exactly as it is instructed.
In many cases, the first step the rule enforcer must take is to issue a warning letter. The offender may need to receive multiple letters before the enforcer is permitted to move on to formal notices and fines.
The resolution process can be slow, especially if the offender has no intention to correct their behavior, but it is important not to skip steps. If the matter goes to court, a judge will be far less likely to support the association if it cannot show that it gave the resident several opportunities to resolve the issue.
Keep a record of everything
As with most issues, alleged wrongdoings or breaches of the condo’s rules and bylaws must be looked into. It’s not enough to issue a violation just because a resident said their neighbor was yelling late at night. Management must also take into account any unique circumstances. In some cases, the association may need to hire a specialist to confirm where a smell or sound is coming from.
Whether the matter is escalated or management finds that no rule was broken, documentation is essential. Maybe one report of a disruptive neighbor won’t trigger any action; if the association receives four or five complaints about the same unit from different people, then it becomes obvious that there is a problem.
Similarly, if a judge must intervene, they will want to see proof that the matter was handled in a fair and systematic manner. All complaints, letters, photos, recordings, responses, etc., should continue to be documented for the entirety of the enforcement process.
Send a clear but courteous warning
If management has witnessed someone breaking the rules, or there is enough evidence to show that an infraction occurred, then the next step is to reach out to the owner. Some buildings will feel comfortable enough to have an informal conversation with the resident. If that is the case, make sure there is still a written record to show that:
- The resident was contacted about the issue
- A remedy or course of action was prescribed
Talking to the resident in a courteous manner can often diffuse the situation. They may not have even been aware that they were doing something wrong.
If the above does not work, or you aren’t comfortable initiating an informal chat, you can issue a warning letter. After that, an official letter, sometimes referred to as a Notice of Violation, must be delivered.
Notice of Violation letter
A Notice of Violation letter is used to tell the recipient that a violation was allegedly committed and outlines the steps required to rectify the issue.
While this letter should be formal, avoid blaming or shaming the resident or owner. It could be that the owner has not broken a rule, or maybe they made a mistake. Try to remind the owner why it’s important to follow the rules, and let them know that they can reach out to you or someone else if they have questions or want to talk about the letter. Be specific and cite the rule that was broken, when it was broken (if possible) when the corrective action must be taken, the procedure for due process (owners have a right to a hearing in front of the board) and what could happen if the behavior continues.
If more complaints are received, or it is obvious that the resident is continuing to break a rule, a second letter will likely be necessary. If a third letter is needed, treat it as a final notice to the resident. In some cases, that means the issues will be turned over to an attorney if the violation has not been resolved. In other cases, fines will be issued.
Fines are monetary penalties issued for breaking the rules. Some condominiums are permitted to issue fines—for example, $100—for each day that a violation has not been remedied. But, there are usually limits on how much a person can be fined for the same violation.
Let’s say there is a cap of $1,000. If the owner reaches this amount and still continues to break the same rule, the association would move on to the next step. It is also wise to get an attorney involved at this point if the condo has not already done so.
In Canada, the majority of lawyers would agree that fines cannot legally be issued in Canadian condos. Under almost all condo declarations, there is broad language that allows the condo to charge back costs to an owner for damage or legal fees that were incurred by the corporation.
If the condo has followed the violation process, and is still unable to get the owner or resident to remedy the issue, the board should get legal help. The case may be presented before a judge if mediation is not an option.
Eviction is rare, but possible in certain cases
It is extremely rare for a condo to be granted permission to evict an owner or residents because of an infraction. But, there are a handful of cases where this has happened. A judge must grant the association or corporation permission to do this – a board cannot forcibly remove a resident by themselves.
Usually, a court will only give a condo permission to evict someone if their behavior is so harmful that it would be impossible for them to coexist with other staff or residents. For example, someone who repeatedly started fires in their unit would be considered a serious risk to themselves and others in the building.
Some states will also allow a condo to ask a court for permission to evict an owner that has fallen behind on their financial obligations. This is known as an eviction action. Through this type of legal action, the association can evict the owner and temporarily take control of the unit. The condo must show that it has followed a process and given the owner several opportunities to pay whatever they owe. It is a costly way to solve the problem, but may be the only option.
Creating a violation letter
A good violation letter can help owners and associations resolve small issues right away. This prevents either party from having to endure long, frustrating enforcement processes.
Take a look at our tips for creating an effective violation letter, or download our free template.
- Be as detailed as possible. Include any information that will build your case and be of use to the recipient
- Stick to the facts. Try to remain as objective as possible. Don’t be influenced by the emotions of another resident
- Remember that the goal of this letter is to get the resident to comply, not to create more conflict. Don’t use aggressive language
- When you draft a violation letter, use non-confrontational phrases like “We have been notified of a possible violation” or “If you believe that you have not broken this rule, or that a violation shouldn’t be applied in this particular case, please advise us in writing so we may process your information”
- Include contact information that the recipient can use to set up a hearing if they require one
- Make sure you indicate when the reply must be received by
- Always send letters to the unit owner. You can send a copy of the letter to the resident as well if a renter has committed the infraction
- Some associations may allow for electronic delivery of violations
- If violations can be sent electronically, use a digital system like Condo Control’s Violation Tracking feature. This streamlines the violation management process and automatically keeps records of all incidents. Owners can also respond through the platform and even pay for fines online
What happens after the letter is sent?
Ideally, the owner will receive the letter, acknowledge that it has been received and confirm that they will take the action(s) prescribed in the letter. However, recipients do have the right to state their case in front of the board. Whatever the recipient decides to do, it is important that management or the board keeps track of the response so that they can prepare for potential next steps.
If the resident does ask to speak at a scheduled hearing, they will have the opportunity to present their side of the story to the condo’s board members. If the board decides that the resident has committed an infraction, then it can order the resident to take the steps outlined in the letter. If those actions are not taken, then the association can move forward and impose more severe sanctions.
When condo owners or residents break a rule, the association has an obligation to address the issue as soon as possible. Sending a violation letter is a vital step toward resolving problems within the community.
Sometimes, a resident may not even be aware that they’ve broken a rule or disturbed another neighbor. A good letter will help educate the recipient without aggravating them. It can help prevent a small issue from turning into a major problem while keeping the peace within the community.