8 Best Practices for Dealing With Residents’ Junk Cars

What can homeowner and condominium associations do, if anything, about old, junk or unsightly cars in the parking lots or streets under community management? Granted, not every resident is going to have a pristine car gleaming in their driveway like a jewel in the development’s crown. Even residents in relatively affluent communities will have teenagers whose old beaters are parked in their driveways or on the street.

How HOAs can deal with junky cars on their properties

Nevertheless, boards of directors have a duty to their association members to protect their interests and property values, and therefore you must address any issues that arise with junk or unsightly vehicles parked around your development.

Here are some best practices for you to consider:

Update Your CC&Rs

Does your association have a written and duly-enacted policy governing automobiles? Was a quorum present when it was passed by the board of directors? Was the meeting at which it was passed advertised in accordance with association bylaws? It may seem pedantic, but these details of due process can be important if the association has a vehicle towed and a resident challenges the association’s authority to do so.

Require Parking Permits or Stickers

This forces members and tenants to register their cars with your management. Your staff can then easily locate the owners of any vehicles that may be presenting a problem. It also allows management to track any vehicles that don’t belong in the community and identify any unauthorized long-term guests by their vehicles.

Require All Vehicles Be Registered

Most jurisdictions require proof of insurance before you can register the vehicle. If a vehicle is truly non-functional, sooner or later the owner will stop paying insurance premiums on it. Furthermore, this policy will make it easy for you to walk through the lot looking for expired tags. Whoever owns the vehicle should then get a notice that you’ll have the vehicle towed after a certain amount of time has elapsed.

Ensure Renters Get Copies of Your CC&Rs

Have language in your CC&Rs requiring all association members to have their renters abide by the generally-applicable car and parking rules.

Have a Formal Tow Policy

It is generally more effective and merciful to tow an offending vehicle than it is to quietly fine an association member and then place a lien on their home to collect those fines.

Staff should photograph the offending vehicle and document why they had it towed. Make absolutely sure local tow laws and the community CC&Rs and other operating documents are followed whenever a car is towed. A tow should never be a surprise to an owner that is paying any attention!

Reserve the Right to Tow Obvious Junk Cars

Sometimes the non-movers are obvious. If a car is up on blocks, has leaves piled up under the tires, has a missing hood, or has one or more flat tires, it’s safe to say it hasn’t been moved in a while.

For cars like these, your association shouldn’t need to wait until the car’s tags expire. Your association’s CC&Rs should address obvious junk cars and allow you to tow them after a diligent effort to contact the owner of the vehicle has been made.

Address RVs in Association Parking Rules

Sooner or later, someone will want to park a RV, travel trailer or boat somewhere on the property. Rules should already be in existence before this becomes an issue. It’s a lot easier to enforce a rule made long before a 50 foot RV gets parked on the street than it is to try to enforce a brand new rule against a family who spent tens of thousands of dollars on their dream rig confident that they’d be able to park it in their yard.

Many associations restrict RV parking to a couple of days per month, allowing the family to load up or unload their RV prior to or following a trip. Associations also often require owners to park their RVs behind their homes or otherwise out of sight.

Always Double-Check Before You Tow!

Here’s a real-world example of why this should be your policy: A Florida property manager recently towed a resident’s vehicle because a couple of tires had deflated, and the vehicle hadn’t been moved in a while. Efforts to contact the resident by mail were unsuccessful. It turned out that the vehicle owner was a reservist, mobilized to serve in Afghanistan for a year, and was not receiving mail. Meanwhile, the Soldiers and Sailors Act applied to any enforcement actions, causing potential liability for the board and bad feelings and regrets all around.

Remember These Things When Renting to Families With Children

If you own rental real estate, sooner or later you’re going to rent to families with children. This isn’t normally a problem, but rental property owners are often understandably concerned about the damage that children can wreak on their properties. Children are prone to spill juice on carpets, draw on the walls with crayons and markers, and have all kinds of accidents that can result in minor property damage.

Considerations for rental property owners who rent to families with childrenCan landlords refuse to rent to children? With a few exceptions that will be described shortly, the answer is no. The general rule in all 50 states is that you cannot discriminate against renters or applicants on the basis of family status due to the Fair Housing Act. Unless you fall under a few specific exemptions, all of the following are clearly prohibited under federal law:

  • Discriminating against families with children
  • Discouraging families with children from renting
  • Relegate families with children to specific areas of a housing complex
  • Discriminate against or screen out pregnant women
  • Discriminate against anyone in the middle of trying to gain custody of a minor

Exemptions for Discriminating Against Children

The law allows housing developments to discriminate against families with children if they are occupied solely by those age 62 or older, or if 80 percent of the occupied dwellings have one or more occupants age 55 or older.

There is also a loophole in some cities and states for rental property owners who own or have partial interest in fewer than three rental units and who rent directly “without the services of a real estate licensee or the facilities of any person in the business of selling or renting dwellings.”

Please note: Property managers can’t discriminate on your behalf, and you can’t discriminate against families if you have a property manager. However, a good property manager should be able to help prevent you from accidentally falling afoul of the regulations. This can happen very easily, even in situations where landlords have no intent to discriminate.

Be Careful With Your Ads and Marketing Materials!

Since the law says you can’t discriminate against families with children, it would be inadvisable to take out an ad on Craigslist that says something to the effect of “NO KIDS.”

Rental property owners have gotten into legal trouble for more subtle means of discouraging families with children, even when it wasn’t clear that there was any criminal intent to discriminate. If you’re not careful, you can get into trouble for simply being sloppy about describing your property.

For example, the following rental property descriptions can be construed as attempts to keep families with children away:

  • “Singles or couples only”
  • “Perfect for couples”
  • “Ideal for urban professionals”
  • “Ideal for college students”
  • “Quiet environment for mature individuals”

In each case, you could get prosecuted for overt discrimination or attract the attention of fair housing testers. These testers pose as applicants, come and see the rental property and speak with you, and then report any whiff of discrimination to the district attorney’s office.

Forbidden Rules Against Children

There are also certain types of rules targeting children that cannot be made. Here are just a few:

  • You can’t prohibit children from using the pool, but you can prohibit unsupervised children from using the pool.
  • You can’t have special adult hours for using the pool, but you can declare the pool off-limits during specific hours of the day if using the pool at that time disturbs nearby residents.
  • You can’t pass a blanket ban on tricycles.

Let’s take a look at a real-world example: A Minnesota rental property owner paid $110,000 in a case brought against them alleging they enacted specific rules for their condominium complex that had a disparate impact amounting to discrimination against families with children.

Here are the specific rules that got them in trouble with federal regulators:

  1. Requiring children to be supervised by an adult at all times when playing in common areas.
  2. Discriminating against children by prohibiting or unreasonably restricting them from playing in common areas.
  3. Making statements in the condominium complex rulebook and public notices that indicated a preference against children playing in the common areas.
  4. Selectively enforcing rules pertaining to the common areas by issuing warnings and violation notices to residents with children, but not to adult residents engaging in the same activities.
  5. Failing to comply with the complaint, enforcement, and appeals procedure set forth in the condominium complex’s rules and regulations for violation notices issued to residents with children.

How to Avoid Discriminating Against Children

To protect yourself, put your applicant screening and selection criteria on paper and stick with it. Have an attorney look it over and ensure it’s compliant with applicable laws, and then keep careful records that demonstrate that you selected renters according to these specific criteria.

Your criteria, of course, shouldn’t take age, race, religion, national origin and gender into account. That is, look at credit scores, job history, income/rent ratios, references, and the like, and stick to those criteria.

When you start talking about the busy streets, or how dangerous the bus stop is for kids, or express concern about how your pregnant applicant is going to manage the stairs, you open the door to possible enforcement action.

Set Appropriate Security Deposits

You need to be consistent about your security deposit policy – you cannot charge a higher deposit for families with children. Make sure the deposit is large enough to pay for whatever damage you can reasonably expect a young child to inflict on carpets, walls and the rest of the rental. Otherwise, you’re taking on the risk.

How to Prevent Illness and Death From Legionnaires’ Disease

Legionnaires’ disease prevention is deadly serious business. A recent outbreak in New York City this last summer killed at least twelve, and sent scores more to the hospital with nasty pneumonia-like symptoms. The Legionella bacterium that causes the disease is particularly dangerous to the elderly and to those with compromised immune systems.

Legionnaires’ disease, so named after an outbreak of the disease from contaminated water afflicted hundreds and killed dozens of attendees at an American Legion convention at a Philadelphia hotel in 1976, is a danger wherever warm water remains stagnant for an extended period of time. People can become infected by drinking or bathing in the water, and even by breathing in contaminated water vapor that can infect ventilation systems or areas around hot tubs, spas, hot water taps and the like.

The aforementioned large New York City outbreak from last summer was centered on a handful of hotels. Another outbreak killed three residents of a veterans’ home in Illinois, and a number of inmates at the San Quentin prison in California were sickened by the disease as well.

Most directors of large facilities are keenly aware of the constant danger of Legionnaires’ disease, and routinely invest large amounts of money in water consultants and the sanitation and treatment of their water systems. The threat, however, is vastly less understood among small investors, property managers, and even development managers.

Training and Resources Are Necessary to Prevent Outbreaks

Your association’s board members should be keenly aware of the prime breeding grounds for Legionella bacteria. Maintenance staff must be trained on Legionella eradication and disease prevention, and be provided with the resources to actually conduct the required maintenance, or bring in specialized vendors with the proper certifications, equipment and skill sets, as necessary.

Any association management firm you bring on should be able to brief you on their procedures regarding Legionnaires’ disease safety. But ultimately the responsibility to keep your association’s residents and staff healthy lies with the board of directors.

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Liability Issues With Legionnaires’ Disease

If a resident, a guest or staff member contracts Legionnaires’ disease, and the infection can be traced back to your property, the potential liability for your association is significant. The Center for Disease Control estimates that the overall fatality rate for known Legionnaires’ disease outbreaks is between 5 and 30 percent. Survivors can spend weeks in the hospital and amass significant medical bills.

Boards should protect owners’ health and interests by ensuring insurance coverage is in place to cover the risk of an infection, and have policies with high enough limits to cover multiple infections.

Insurance Considerations for Legionnaires’ Disease

Often, landlord insurance policies and HOA general liability policies don’t specifically include protection for Legionnaires’ disease. Some policies may have exclusions covering bacteria or fungi, or a Total Pollution Exclusion that could provide a carrier with the justification to contest a claim. However, courts have generally ruled against insurance carriers when they have tried to assert these exclusions concerning Legionnaires’ disease outbreaks.

Speak with your property and casualty insurance agent about what your policy does and does not cover, and make sure to do so before any problems arise! If the carrier excludes coverage for Legionnaires’ disease-related liability, it may be prudent to take out an environmental insurance policy that provides more explicit coverage.

Training and Resources Are Necessary to Prevent Outbreaks

Your association’s board members should be keenly aware of the prime breeding grounds for Legionella bacteria. Maintenance staff must be trained on Legionella eradication and disease prevention, and be provided with the resources to actually conduct the required maintenance, or bring in specialized vendors with the proper certifications, equipment and skill sets, as necessary.

Any association management firm you bring on should be able to brief you on their procedures regarding Legionnaires’ disease safety. But ultimately the responsibility to keep your association’s residents and staff healthy lies with the board of directors.

Areas Where Legionella Bacteria Can Thrive

Legionella bacteria can grow and thrive in the following environments. Take extra care to ensure these areas are kept sanitized.

  • HVAC cooling towers
  • Water heaters
  • Hot tubs
  • Pools
  • Ponds
  • Fountains
  • Rarely-used plumbing lines
  • Ice machines
  • Misters

How to Prevent Legionnaires’ Disease Outbreaks

  • Take regular samples of pool, hot tub, spa and cooling tower water. Test kits are readily available at larger hardware chains and at pool and spa specialty stores.
  • Schedule the testing procedure, and hold someone accountable to ensure the scheduled testing is carried out and documented.
  • Maintain hot tub and water heater chlorine/bromine and pH levels according to guidance provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  • Periodically scrub and disinfect hot tub, pool and cooling tower surfaces to remove the layer of biofilm that can accumulate.
  • Schedule hot tub and water filter replacements per manufacturer recommendations.
  • Set hot water heaters to store water at 140 degrees Fahrenheit or hotter.
  • Ensure water tanks aren’t too big for their heating systems – especially with solar heating systems.
  • Periodically flush unused lines with hot water.
  • Isolate plumbing in unused buildings or buildings under construction. Legionella bacteria could accumulate in these unused areas in pipes and fixtures and leak back into the main water supply for the rest of the building.

Ultimately, the board of directors is responsible for everything the community does or fails to do when it comes to the protection of members, staff and guests from hazards that arise from water contamination in common area facilities. While there is no reason to panic, as the vast majority of properties experience no issues with Legionnaires’ disease, preventing outbreaks still requires constant vigilance and leadership emphasis on the part of board members and association managers alike.

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