Condo and HOA Management

3 Ways to Enforce Homeowners Association Rules

| 4 min. read

Disclaimer: The information on this website is for general informational purposes only and is not intended to replace or serve as a substitute for any legal, advisory, tax or other professional advice or service.

According to the Foundation for Community Association Research, approximately 25 to 27 percent of the U.S. population lives in private communities governed by condominiums, cooperatives, and housing associations. 

As HOA communities continue to grow, so does the need for adherence to established HOA rules. Below, we’ll review an HOA or community board’s traditional roles and responsibilities, three proven ways to enforce HOA rules, and some common violations many HOA board members report.

We’ll also cover:

  • When an HOA may want to partner with an HOA property management company
  • What to look for when searching for the best property management company to fit your needs
  • How to find an HOA property manager that will ease board member fatigue and burnout 

The HOA Board's Roles and Responsibilities

A homeowners association (HOA), also called a community association, is a private entity that manages shared property, such as subdivisions and condominiums. An HOA board, specifically, works to maintain the property, protect homeowners' property values, provide services for residents, and enforce rules and policies within the community. 

While every board has distinct responsibilities, the following four things tend to be true about most community associations. 

Generally, an HOA board or community association board handles: 

  • Common Areas. The board budgets for and organizes the maintenance of all common areas. This could include but is not limited to, a community pool and/or poolhouse, clubhouse, fields, parks, walkways, alleyways, sidewalks, and any other shared space. 
  • Community Funds. HOA Boards collect and manage HOA member dues. Then, they discuss and decide how to manage these funds to best benefit the community.
  • Complaints. When—not if—homeowner complaints arise, board members will investigate the situation and resolve it as quickly and amicably as possible.
  • Mediation. Occasionally, situations between neighbors escalate to the point of needing an outside mediator’s guidance. The board may step in to mediate neighbor disputes or disagreements as needed. 

3 Ways to Enforce HOA Rules

An HOA board is responsible for enforcing rules and policies fairly across the neighborhood. This is much more easily said than done. Because HOA boards fit somewhere between an individual and a corporation, board members are subject to different guidelines in each state about what actions they can and cannot take when enforcing HOA rules. 

HOA board members must remain vigilant in addressing all violations equally across neighborhood members. But addressing HOA violations doesn’t mean you have to start from scratch—use APM’s simple templates to speed up the process.  

In other words, an HOA board should not enforce rules arbitrarily against one neighbor and ignore violations of others. This can not only lead to unnecessary neighborhood drama, but also has precedence in legal action as well. See Block v. Frischholz for a detailed account. 

When addressing HOA violations, an HOA Board will use some variation of the following three tactics to enforce HOA rules throughout the neighborhood.

#1: Financial: HOA Levies a Fine

A primary way HOA Boards enforce compliance is through the mild financial pressure of levying a fine against the offending party. Some state legislation requires HOA fines to be reasonable in amount. While “reasonable” is difficult to define, many fines begin at $25. 

Additionally, HOA associations must provide offending homeowners with written notice of the violation before any fine is officially called for. This due process requirement ensures that homeowners have an opportunity to correct the offense before they’re required to pay a fine. 

Once due process is complete, however, fines can begin to increase, sometimes daily. Fines may begin at $25 but can increase to $50 or $100 if the issue is not addressed. Beyond a simple fine, some states allow an HOA Board to compound large fines into a lien against the homeowner’s property. Even further, a homeowners association may be able to file a lawsuit or take other legal action against homeowners who don’t pay fines. 

#2: Coercive: HOA Uses Internal Resources 

Financial pressure isn’t the only tool at an HOA Board’s disposal. Some HOA Board governing documents outline other possible actions to gain homeowner compliance with community rules. 

These may include: 

  • Restriction of Voting Rights. An HOA board may choose to suspend a homeowner’s right to vote in neighborhood decisions until they remedy an unaddressed violation.
  • Restriction of Access.  The HOA may also restrict the offending party’s access to community amenities and shared spaces. 
  • Utility Shut-Off. In extreme cases, if allowed by the state, an HOA may have the option to shut off utilities to ensure compliance. Be aware, however, that this action usually involves a legal component and state review, which has additional paperwork, rules, and regulations.

#3: Legal: HOA Files Legal Action

As mentioned, sometimes the HOA must gain compliance through legal action. The majority of states prefer to keep these types of disputes out of court and require mediation or arbitration as an option before legal action. It’s best to keep this option as a last resort in the most difficult cases. 

Before the board takes legal action, they must have exhausted all other compliance options and have an official record of the situation as it progresses.

If your board finds violations difficult to keep up with, it might be time to consider partnering with an HOA property manager to ease the burden.

What Does an HOA Property Manager do? 

If your HOA board decides to partner with a professional HOA management company, here’s what you can expect: 

  • Faster response times. Unlike board members, HOA property managers are not volunteers. Rather, a property management company works for the HOA board. They’ll respond quickly and resolve issues efficiently. 
  • Safe and efficient financial management. Budget stressors are gone. An HOA management company will handle dues collection, reporting, and funds control.
  • Better governance and legal compliance. With their years of experience and pulse on evolving local issues, the board can trust that an HOA management company will have these areas covered. 
  • Fairness and equity in handling disputes. HOA managers mitigate disputes between neighbors, as well as enforce fees and restrictions—absolving you from awkward conflicts
  • Better vendor relations and discounts on required services. With their professional relationships and extensive, established networks, HOA management companies can quickly bring down professional costs. 
  • Staying in control. Even though an HOA manager can take much of the work off your plate, you’ll still have complete control over decision-making and where to steer your board and the community it represents.

How to Evaluate if you Need an HOA Property Manager

If your board is considering a partnership with an HOA property manager, start by asking these three questions: 

  1. What’s the tension level in the neighborhood? A trend over the past couple of years—partially due to our increased time at home—has been more frequent neighbor disputes and disagreements. Mediating neighbor disputes can be exhausting and draining, especially if disagreements are between friends. Partnering with an HOA management company allows your board members to remove themselves from conflict and outsource the mediation to professionals. 
  2. What does the board’s future look like? One recurring reason boards hire property management companies is to make board turnover seamless and simple. Having the consistent, steadying presence of a property manager helps streamline transitions between board members. Plus, joining the board is more appealing to new members when they know it won’t take up too much of their free time to volunteer.
  3. How’s the money management going? While, occasionally, you’ll be lucky enough to have a financially savvy board member, this area is often cited as one of the most difficult for volunteer-led boards to manage. A property management company alleviates that burden by keeping the books in order while providing easy digital access to all financial information when the board needs to check in. 

What are the benefits of an HOA Property Management Company?

#1: Competitive Contracts

Property managers have an inherent ability to negotiate more competitive (aka cheaper) contracts with professionals, ultimately reducing costs for HOA boards. This is largely due to their extensive network. As Luxury Property Care notes, “Property management companies have probably been in the industry for far longer than board members have. They’ve established long-standing relationships with contractors such as plumbers, electricians, landscapers, and so on.” 

#2: Legal Experience

Their years of industry expertise provide a solid understanding of local laws and can offer you initial advice on certain matters, avoiding common pitfalls and the legal fees that can accompany them.

#3: Established Technology

Building an HOA website from scratch is daunting—and unnecessary. Property management companies have the technology already in place to make it easy for tenants, landlords, and board members to pay dues, file maintenance work orders, and submit requests online.

#4: Regular Contractor Relationships

In addition to negotiating competitive contract pricing, most property management companies also have access to better-quality contractors. They’ve already done the leg work of vetting contractors and building relationships. 

#5: Experience with the Worst

Property management companies have experience with a variety of worst-case scenarios that your board can benefit from. Whether that means making sure that your property has the right insurance in case of emergencies, protecting the HOA board if accidents occur on the premises, or settling disputes between homeowners, property management companies have you covered. 

Plus, the HOA board no longer needs to mediate every disagreement between homeowners or tenants. There’s an unbiased third party ready and waiting! 

In fact, approximately 85% of homeowner associations are managed by professional management companies. Once your board is ready to simplify association management, APM can help you find a local firm to best fit your board’s needs.

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