Selective Enforcement of HOA Rules

March 8, 2023

HOAs are governed according to their pre-set rules, procedures, and policies, and run by management boards, which community members can influence through HOA elections.

Selective enforcement means that the association applies rules to some homeowners or groups of homeowners, and not others, creating animosity and potential conflict. An example might include issuing violation notices for some homeowners who break a rule and ignoring the same breach by another.

The HOA board is responsible for ensuring all regulations are applied uniformly and fairly. Still, selective enforcement can be unintentional, perhaps where HOA boards rely on members to report violations rather than having a consistent process.

Dealing With Selective Enforcement By an HOA

Homeowners who feel they are being targeted by selective enforcement have a range of ways to handle unfair treatment. The best action plan is to begin by referring to the governing documents.

The next steps could include the following:

  • Writing to the HOA, outlining the matter, and including the wording of the relevant policies
  • Explaining why you feel you have potentially been treated unreasonably, and mentioning examples where possible to provide clarity and context
  • Raising the issue at a forthcoming HOA meeting, advising the board in advance to request an item be included on the agenda

In most cases, selective enforcement is accidental and an opportunity for the HOA to recognize shortcomings in consistency and identify ways to improve processes so that all homeowners are treated fairly.

Addressing Selective Enforcement Through Legal Action

Can you sue an HOA for selective enforcement if the above steps do not help reach a conclusion or if you feel you have been discriminated against? You can, but be aware that legal action can be costly, time-consuming, and possibly escalate the problem.

Expressing your concerns, inviting contributions from other members, and discussing the issue calmly and politely will normally enable all parties to reach an amicable outcome.

Running an HOA to Avoid Perceived Selective Enforcement

New board members may discover there is much more to learning how to run an HOA than they may have imagined, but as a rule of thumb, sticking to the governing documents and avoiding any exemptions is best practice.

There are several strategies that should ensure rules are enforced uniformly:

  • Proactively share governing documents, particularly with new homeowners, ensuring everybody is fully aware of the rules. Digital file-sharing and circulations are ideal, particularly where recent changes to by-laws or board elections have resulted in an update.
  • Educate homeowners about common violations, encourage compliance, and offer recaps or group meetings to support new members.
  • Follow the HOA enforcement process. The policy documentation will dictate how rules are enforced, normally with one or two warning notices followed by a formal violation notice. Board members should ensure sufficient warnings are given before introducing fines or revoking rights.
  • Collate documents to evidence each issue, showing steps taken to bring problems to the homeowner’s attention, with a paper trail available.
  • Decide on an appropriate monitoring system within the association or by outsourcing to an HOA management company. Delegating this to a third party can be useful to ensure personal relationships never influence rule enforcement.

Newly elected HOA boards may also find that the previous board has yet to enforce rules exactly as set out by the governing documents, in which case communication is essential. HOA boards can advise homeowners of the date from which a policy will be actively enforced, providing fair notice.

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