In these pressing economic times, Board members are trying to do whatever it takes to save money. While this mindset is certainly prudent, Boards need to be careful about being “penny wise and pound foolish.” Clients regularly call and ask what they can do to stop owners from violating the association’s use restrictions. This inquiry is typically followed with a caveat that the Board cannot spend a lot of money on legal fees to procure compliance. In other words, get these people to comply with our rules but do it cheaply. Hence, the fining process. Imposing fines may indeed be an inexpensive alternative to filing lawsuits or arbitration petitions but does it actually help in curing violations or deterring owners from violating the association’s use restrictions? First, associations cannot even consider this option unless the authority to impose fines is found within the governing documents (e.g declaration of condominium, declaration of restrictive covenants or the bylaws). If the board indeed has the power to impose fines, it must establish a separate (fining) committee. The committee must consist of at least 3 owners who are not board members, not related to board members and do not live in the same household as a board member. Then, before any fine may be imposed, the Board must provide the offending owner with reasonable advance notice (i.e. 14 days) of the date, time and location for the owner to appear before the fining committee. The offending owner must be given the opportunity to explain to the committee why a fine should not be levied. If the fining committee determines not to impose a fine, no fine may be imposed. The Board cannot overrule the fining committee and levy a fine where the committee votes not to impose a fine. Even if the committee votes to fine an offending owner, the fine cannot exceed $100.00 per day for a continuing violation and no fine in a condominium may exceed $1,000.00 for any single violation. Homeowners associations actually have the ability to levy fines in excess of $1,000.00 but may only do so if the specific fine amount is described within its governing documents. But, do fines really work? In both condominiums and homeowners associations, no fine (if unpaid) may become a lien against the owner’s home or unit. Therefore, if a unit owner fails to pay a fine, the association’s recourse to collect the fine would be to file a claim for damages in small claims court. Also, and perhaps most importantly, the imposition of a fine does not automatically cure the underlying violation. A fine does not force the owner to comply. Indeed, many owners would gladly pay a $1,000.00 fine in order to keep their dog or continue with that fourth-story addition on their home. Thus, while imposing fines may seem like an attractive and cost-effective solution, it does not guaranty an owner’s compliance with the association’s governing documents. If an owner refuses to abide by the rules, the Board’s only realistic option may be to file suit (or an arbitration petition as the case may be) and seek the entry of an injunction against the non-complying owner. If successful, the association is entitled to an award of its reasonable attorney’s fees and costs. Then, if such owner fails to comply, the judge may levy sanctions, hold the owner in contempt of court or ultimately issue a bench warrant for the owner’s arrest. So, does the fining process really work?
enforcementfinesfining committeeuse restrictions