One of the most important tasks in managing a homeowners association is the enforcement of use and deed restrictions, and making sure that the owners and residents are complying with the standards of the community. There are key elements to be followed by the homeowners’ association as well as the owners.
The trend in most communities today is an increased amount of deed restriction violations compared to a few years ago. This is largely due to the economic times, which have caused many homeowners to have difficulty in maintaining their homes. This is a primary reason why it is so important to have a solid and effective Violation Procedure so that the standards can be maintained in a community.
As an HOA management company, one of the first items we review when managing a deed-restricted community is to review the governing documents, the architectural guidelines and any policies, rules and regulations relating to enforcement of use and deed restrictions. Some of the key elements we recommend are:
- Review the governing documents to determine what the use restrictions are, as well as the authority of the board to enforce the documents and use restrictions;
- Review the architectural guidelines to determine the specific guidelines relating to exterior modifications, which also may tie into the use restrictions;
- Review the violation procedure for the community. If there is not a formal violation policy, we recommend a formal violation policy, which includes a process for first violation letters, second violations letters, and a fining policy, if needed. The policy should also include a process for the homeowner to appeal the proposed fine to the committee and the Board of Directors if a fine is imposed by the Fining Committee.
Florida Statute 720 has language that permits an association to fine owners who do not comply with the deed restrictions. The association may impose a fine not to exceed $1,000 and that fine of $1,000 or more may become a lien against the parcel. It is never the intent of the association to impose a fine on the homeowners; rather, it is their intent to make sure the residents are maintaining the established standards of the community. We always try to guide the communities on how important it is to have a strong violation procedure so that the standards can be met. However, it is also very important to work with the residents so that they have an opportunity to meet those standards, even in difficult economic times.
A strong and effective policy would include the following:
- Procedure for inspections of the community by the management team
- First Violation Notice
- Second Violation Notice
- Proposed Fine Process and
- Appeals Process
In most communities, if a fine is imposed, we always recommend the chance to appeal to the board of directors. The policy should additionally include the procedure when an owner fails to either correct the violation and/or pay an imposed fine.
Although the association may adopt a formal violation policy, their intent should not be to impose a fine, but rather to set expectations for the homeowners on maintaining the exterior of their homes so that the standards can be met. As owners of the community, one of the association’s primary goals is to protect the investment of all owners and a key element in protecting these investments is making sure the community standards are met and maintained.
What Should the Homeowner/Property Owner do if they receive a Violation Notice?
It is important that if a homeowner receives a violation notice, they should first notify the management company of their intent to correct the violation. In most of the communities we manage, we include a “Violation Compliance Form” that is to be completed and returned to the community outlining the plan of action the owner will take to correct the violation. If the homeowner submits the violation compliance, it allows the association to understand that the homeowner is attempting to correct the violation. Typically, if the homeowner does not provide the communication to the association, then the second notice or, most likely, proposed fine letter is sent to the homeowner.
We have seen many times where the homeowner does submit a Violation Compliance Form and when the manager makes a follow up inspection, it does not appear the violation is corrected. In those instances, we send out a “Reminder” letter rather than a “Proposed Fine” letter because the homeowner had previously communicated that they were working on correcting the violation.
In summary, communication is the key. As a homeowner, if you receive a letter of violation from your association, you must communicate with the management company on your plan of action to avoid any further letters or fines. Please remember that the association wants to work with the residents/owners toward compliance, but communication is the key factor.
It is important on the association’s side to communicate any new rules/policies and use restrictions to the owners and provide tools to the owners, so they can properly maintain the standards of the community. The association does not want to be in a position where they need to follow these steps; however, it is the board’s fiduciary responsibility to enforce the documents and standards for the community and this is a formal process and requirement in order to make sure the standards are met in your community.
Patty Truax Stewart, CMCA, AMS
Community Management Concepts, Inc. Florida
Provided by Associa