By Douglas S. MacGregor, J.D., M.S.W.
Every community association — condominium, planned developments with homeowner’s associations, and cooperative — has rules governing you and your guests’ behavior. What happens if a committee or board says you have violated a rule?
1. Stay calm. Be professional throughout this process no matter how board or committee members act. You’ll gain nothing by “going to war.”
2. Get it in writing. Ask for a written statement about the alleged violation that includes the specific rule violated, where that rule can be found, and when and where the violation occurred.
3. Read the rule as it appears in the documents. You’d be surprised how often associations try to enforce rules that aren’t on the books or that don’t say what the association thinks they say.
4. Check the facts. If the board or committee got its facts wrong, make your case in writing. For example, if they say you have a dog in violation of a “no pet rule,” state in writing that you do not own a dog at all.
5. Talk to an attorney. If you may have violated a rule, but the rule seems unfair, arbitrary, ambiguous, or isn’t consistently enforced, you may want to talk to an attorney. Challenging association rules usually requires special legal knowledge. For example, when the language of a rule is ambiguous, courts generally construe that rule against the party seeking to enforce it. You will likely need an attorney to convince the board or committee that its rule is unenforceable.
6. Get a hearing. If your association tries to fine you for an alleged rule violation, Colorado law states it must provide a “fair and impartial fact-finding process” with notice of any meeting or hearing at which the fine will be discussed. At the meeting, you should have an opportunity to state your case before an “impartial” decision maker, which usually means the governing board or any rule enforcement committee. You don’t need an attorney to represent you, but if the fines are considerable, you may want to bring one along. After all, unless you pay the fine, your association is authorized by statute to collect the fines by foreclosing its lien on your home.
For more information see Colorado Community Association Law: Condominiums, Cooperatives, and Homeowners Associations , by Douglas S. MacGregor, J.D., M.S.W.