At some point during the lifespan of a community association, a homeowner will break the rules, whether on purpose or by accident. When this happens, the Board of Directors must help them to understand that they’ve broken the rules and comply with them.
Some of the most common rule violations include parking in the wrong spot, leaving the trash can out on the wrong day of the week, or poor landscaping. Most of these are due to neglect and a quick phone call can easily solve these issues. The next course of action would be a warning letter or a violation letter.
How to approach the situation?
There are many reasons why homeowners fail to comply with association rules and regulations. Sometimes it’s due to negligence or conscious rebellion. Other times, it’s because of simple absent-mindedness.
Whatever the cause, it’s always a good idea to approach the situation with caution. Before the board takes formal action against the homeowner, it’s best to initiate personal contact first. A face-to-face visit or a phone call to give the homeowner a friendly reminder of their duties is a great way to initiate contact.
Gently remind the homeowner about the purpose of the rule, followed up by a follow-up letter that confirms the phone call conversation. The goal is to help the homeowner understand the value of the rule. Also, state clearly how the HOA board plans to react, should the homeowner break the rule again.
This fosters a sense of community and shows the homeowner that the HOA didn’t just jump to negative conclusions.
Should the homeowner fail to heed this initial gentle warning, then the HOA should take the next step which is to send a violation letter.
How to write a violation letter?
As the name implies, a Notice of Violation is meant to inform the homeowner of the particular violation committed and the steps required to remedy the issue.
If you’ve never created a violation letter before, all it takes is following a few easy steps.
- First and foremost, the letter should contain the homeowner’s name as well as their unit number. This is important to identify the violating party.
- Provide a detailed written account of how the homeowner violated their agreement with the HOA. What specific rules and regulations were broken?
- The third step is to include a deadline by which the offending party should rectify the violation. When determining this time frame, it’s important to take into account the type of violation and the amount of it might take to rectify it. The HOA agreement should contain a guideline on how much time should be allocated for violation remedies.
- The final step is to send the letter to the offending homeowner. Again, the HOA agreement should provide guidance on the best communication channels to use for this purpose.
It’s important to note that most HOA’s will send two or three consecutive violation letters to give the homeowner ample opportunity to rectify the situation. In this case, the first letter should contain details of the violation and how it’ll affect the community both fiscally and ethically.
If the homeowner doesn’t respond to the first letter within the prescribed timeframe, the board may proceed with a second and even a third violation letter. The final letter is usually more strongly worded than the first and includes a citation of the rule that has been broken, the time and process through which to remedy the situation; as well as clear consequences.
The final letter may also inform the homeowner that further noncompliance may force the board to turn the matter over to a collections agency or an attorney.
When writing an HOA violation letter, it’s important to be mindful of the tone. Use phrases like;
- “We look forward to hearing your side of the story”;
- “Please notify us in writing if the rule in question is not applicable to your particular situation”;
- “The Board has been made aware of a possible misunderstanding”;
Keep the tone light, positive and professional, keeping in mind that this is a valued member of the community and a neighbor to members of the board.
The Right to Notice of Violation
It’s important for the HOA to check with state regulations before applying its own protocols. That’s because some states make provisions for the notice of violation process. Province/State laws are usually concerned with ensuring that homeowners receive due notice of their violation and are given an opportunity to rectify the situation.
If your state doesn’t have any regulations on how to handle violations, then it’s up to the HOA to determine the required course of action.
Generally, association bylaws specify how the violation letter must be written and how it should be delivered to the offending homeowner. Some bylaws may even contain information on how the homeowner is expected to respond to the notice.
For instance, let’s say a homeowner is struggling to maintain their yard properly. The lawn is overgrown and everything just looks disorderly. This would be considered a minor issue that is relatively easy to nip in the bud.
However, there are greater violations like unauthorized construction on the unit or illegal installation of certain appliances that aren’t allowed by the CC&Rs.
To avoid such misunderstandings, it’s important for homeowners to study and understand their responsibilities as well, including state law and the association bylaws that govern violation notices.
Right to a Hearing
Once the HOA has sent a violation notice to the homeowner, the following step is to hold a hearing. The right to a hearing is based on a set of basic laws that are pervasive across the board. These laws state that whenever a violation occurs, the offending party has the right to a formal hearing regardless of the prevailing circumstance.
The homeowner must receive advance notice of the hearing as this gives them an opportunity to plan properly for the hearing beforehand. This step in the process can be quite helpful for association members who wish to tell their side of the story, which may be different from the surface level reality. They might present new evidence that the Board of Directors may not have been aware of.
As preparation for the hearing, the HOA should review what state law and its own bylaws state about the issue. After the hearing, the onus is on the HOA board to give their final verdict on the violation notice.
The board might choose to scrap the violation due to new evidence, or they may choose to fine the offending homeowner for non-compliance. They might also require the homeowner to take certain actions in order to fix the problem.
If your state has processes in place to deal with HOA disputes, then it’s probably a good idea to follow the state-prescribed arbitration process after the hearing.
If your state doesn’t provide any guidance on how to deal with HOA disputes, then your next course of action would be to take the matter to a district court. Should the homeowner feel dissatisfied with the outcome, there is always the state court of appeals to turn to. It’s important to note that an extensive appeals process is only worth pursuing in cases of extreme violations.
For the most part, it is typically advised for an HOA to manage rule violations on its own instead of taking a more formal route.
The Appeals Process
Homeowners have the right to appeal the HOA’s decision. The association bylaws should provide some form of an appeals process, failing which one would turn to state law for further guidance. If the state law doesn’t provide a framework for an appeal process the next step is a court battle.
The ensuing process would follow the steps of any litigation process based on state rules that govern civil actions. This is the final frontier for any HOA vs homeowner battle and it can cost both parties a lot of money, time and energy.
It can also strain the relationship between the homeowner and the HOA. That’s why it’s important for the HOA to provide a detailed and comprehensive framework for handling violations, with various alternatives that’ll render a court battle an absolute last resort.
When enforcing CC&Rs, it’s important for the HOA to do so reasonably and without discrimination. That means that the HOA should show consistency in its application of community bylaws, especially when it comes to penalizing violations.
HOA Non-Compliance with Regard to Notice and Hearing Requirements
What happens when the HOA fails to comply with association rules that govern the notice of violation process? For instance, the homeowner might complain that they weren’t given proper notice of the hearing, or that the violation letter did not provide adequate details of the violation.
When this happens, the HOA needs to reissue the notice with all the required information and within the right timeframe. The HOA board has a responsibility to provide written notice with detailed information on the nature of the violation and the required remedy.
Enforcing association rules and regulations is one of the challenges inherent in running a homeowner’s association. When a homeowner steps out of line, it’s the HOA’s responsibility to penalize them accordingly.
The association’s CC&R documents typically provide guidance on the course of action required in the event of a violation and sending a violation letter is usually the first aspect of this process.
It’s also important if you’re going to send a violation letter to the homeowner, that the rest of the board is made aware of it via email or some other method. Ideally, violations should be discussed and decided at a board meeting so the whole board is aware of the violation letter before it goes out.
Download our free violation letter template