Another important function of the association’s board of directors is to enforce governing documents. Unfortunately this function is often viewed with disdain by owners against whom enforcement is being sought. Owners on the receiving end of enforcement proceedings often feel that they are being unfairly singled out.
When taking action, an association’s board must strive to enforce governing documents reasonably and consistently. By doing so, a board can avoid these kinds of arguments and feelings by members while also upholding a board’s fiduciary obligations.
Consistent enforcement of governing documents requires a certain amount of knowledge of what is going on in the community. It does not, however, require a daily review of every owner’s property to seek out violations. There are a variety of ways to determine whether violations exist. Two common methods are as follows:
- Many boards perform a monthly walk-through to determine if maintenance is necessary within the common area, if any violations exist, or to assess alleged violations. This option provides the board with the ability to see the violations “for themselves” and determine what action might be necessary.
- Other boards rely solely on alleged violations submitted by owners. These boards should take care to avoid becoming an enforcement arm for owners who do not like their neighbors. Association boards should try to avoid getting involved with neighbor disputes, instead allowing the individuals to resolve the dispute themselves.
To avoid the possibility of becoming an owner’s enforcement arm, when a board receives an alleged violation, someone should review the alleged violation to determine if the violation actually exists. After review, the board can determine whether enforcement action is needed.
Association board members must also remember to enforce governing documents reasonably. Unless there is legislation out there of which I’m not aware, there is no requirement to institute a “police state” within an association community. Instead, a reasonable enforcement policy should be adopted by the board of directors and all owners should be aware of what is expected of them and what enforcement steps might be taken if they don’t follow the rules.
Association boards and owners alike must understand that reasonable enforcement of the governing documents is required. Owners should understand that when they purchase property subject to recorded governing documents, they are obligated to comply with those documents. Board members should understand that when they are elected, they are obligated to reasonably enforce the governing documents.
Boards and owners should also understand that enforcement of governing documents is one of the association’s purposes and one of the many ways that a community maintains beauty and order. Not that chaos can’t be beautiful, but a chaotic community often creates more harm than benefit.
Raising these understandings, awareness and expectations will go a long way toward avoiding future disputes.