Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Violation Notices

Other than paying assessments, the most common reminder that one lives in an association is receiving a letter specifying a needed home maintenance action.  Pointing out contractual obligations can appear confrontational or seem to be a personal attack, more so because we are dealing with a person’s private living space. 

Community Association Managers perform inspections per an Association contract, with direction provided by the Board.  Communities without land covenants, or communities with unenforced covenants, often end up dilapidated, driving down home values.  Property reviews help identify improvements needed to increase aesthetics, keep up property values, and ensure that everyone, including homeowners, are doing their part in the community’s success. A well-maintained community also encourages neighbors to remain current on their assessments.
If the community has not been consistent with its inspections, it can be a very time consuming and challenging process to get the community back into shape.  This is even more difficult if there is no ability to fine or perform self-help (meaning that the Association comes in and performs work on the home, and bills expenses back to the homeowner).  In these instances it is a good idea to amend the governing documents to establish consequences for non-compliance.  Without consequences, notifications will be ignored and homeowners are much less likely to correct violations in a timely manner.   If your community finds itself having to start from scratch, the first action should be to provide a community-wide announcement, setting a date for enforcement activity to begin.  This announcement should list the most frequent violations, so that all homeowners can self-police.
This property review process requires the use of a formal violation notices.  Due to a recent Georgia court decision, it is recommended that the violation log be formally approved by the Board at each meeting.  Compliance letters prevent confusion and provide protection against challenges.  Such notices should carefully detail the violation and provide a solution, so homeowners may easily resolve a situation.  In contentious cases, you may need to file notice in the courthouse land records, so a prospective home buyer is made aware.  Otherwise, the new owner could potentially be exempt from addressing a violation left by the seller.  Another consideration is the two-year statute of limitations.  The clock starts ticking when the violation occurs, not when it is discovered.  If two years pass without the situation resolved, the violation may be unchallengeable.

When receiving a violation letter, a natural response is to look and see if neighbors are being cited for the same issues.  Ensuring everyone is held to the same standards is in the best interest of all – the homeowners, the Board, and the management team. If homeowners have confidence in an impartial process, they are more likely to respond in a positive fashion to violation notices.  Inspections are just a snapshot in time, and the manager is not aware of personal circumstances that may impact compliance.  If someone receives a violation letter that he feel is unwarranted, he should contact the manager to discuss.  Managers are reasonable people, and will work with anyone in the midst of a hardship or special situation.

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