Contributed by Edward Hoffman Jr., Esq.
Residents in community associations won’t always see eye to eye on every issue, and that’s OK. We simply aren’t wired to agree on everything. However, sometimes, a simple disagreement rises to the level of conflict. The path to reducing conflict in associations begins with proactively and intentionally acting to avoid the disagreements, issues, and other frustrations. Start with consistent enforcement.
Community association board members and managers can greatly reduce conflict and potential liability by following these enforcement best practices:
Actually enforce the rules and regulations. It seems too obvious, but several communities ignore their documents and enforcement actions.
Don’t play favorites. A board must practice consistent enforcement with its rules and regulations, imposing them equally against every owner. Picking and choosing some, but not all, owners as it relates to enforcement will certainly lead to conflict.
Avoid bad decisions. Some community leaders make bad decisions that lead to inconsistent enforcement. If a bad decision has already been made, a board should recognize it and reverse course. Boards should adopt and implement an enforcement policy and stick to it.
Ensure due process is provided. Many state statutes provide an association with the power to levy reasonable fines for violations of the declaration, bylaws, rules, and regulations after notice and an opportunity to be heard are provided. Fining an owner or engaging in a related enforcement action prior to providing him or her with notice and an opportunity to be heard may lead to a successful lack of due process.
Stop unofficial enforcement. A board member, committee member, or some other person with actual or apparent authority to act on behalf of the association should not tell an owner to do something as it relates to the rules and regulations without the consent (vote) of the entire board of directors.
For example, a landscaping committee member cannot unilaterally advise an owner to remove a tree because the committee member believes the tree is in violation of the covenants. The owner might perceive that the committee member has the proper authority. If the owner actually removed the tree as a result of the committee member’s directive, and the tree didn’t have to come down, conflict would likely follow.
Boards must be cognizant of the propensity for this type of activity and must properly educate and train all community leaders and volunteers to stop unofficial enforcement.
Communities that follow consistent enforcement with rules and regulations, practice good governance, communicate with residents, take neighbor disputes seriously, and govern with empathy can solve a lot of their problems.
Edward Hoffman Jr. is the founder of Hoffman Law LLC, a community association law firm with offices in Pennsylvania. He is a fellow in CAI’s College of Community Association Lawyers, the current chair of the CAI Keystone Chapter’s Legislative Action Committee, and is a member of the Chapter’s Poconos Regional Council. He is licensed to practice law in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
>>Read more about reducing conflict in your community in “Peace of the Puzzle,” from the May/June 2021 Issue of Common Ground magazine.