A common question Owners ask is what to do if a Condo Association rule is being ignored and going unenforced. Understandably, this can cause significant consternation among Owners. Rules are meant to be followed, and if an Association isn’t following its own rules, then what? The answer, as with most things, is that “it’s complicated.” This article is focused on rules being ignored – Bylaws will be covered another time. There are many variables regarding Condo Association rules being ignored that need to be evaluated to gauge what’s wrong and how you need to respond.
Is the Rule Being Ignored Completely or Selectively?
The first issue to evaluate is whether or not the rule is being completely ignored or enforced selectively. One of the common practical guidelines of pragmatic Condo Association policies is that you can ignore a rule completely, but you can’t enforce it arbitrarily. For various reasons, Condo Associations might choose to ignore rules that are outdated. While it might make more sense to change the rule, some Associations choose the easy way and just ignore it. While this might seem appalling to some, in reality it depends on the issue. This phenomenon is not limited to Condo Associations – there are many examples of crazy state laws that are on the books (and usually not enforced).
If the reality is Owners are indifferent or supportive of the rule being ignored, then it’s fine. If a rule is being selectively enforced, that’s no good. For example, the Board is allowing Board members to rent their units out on Airbnb but no one else, that’s a sign of a bad Association. Bad Associations must be fought accordingly.
Is the Rule a Major Issue or a Nuisance?
If the issue is a nuisance – like not following the exact rules of a committee, but not in a way that harms someone, that’s one thing. On the other hand, if you’re refusing to enforce short-term rental laws, that’s another. Having an honest judgment call about the importance of the core issue is critical to determining how to handle Condo Association rules being ignored.
Raise the Issue Politely
Let’s say the issue matters enough that you want to raise it to the Board. The first thing to do is reach out to the Board in a polite and constructive manner. Identify the issue, lay out your concern, and ask why the rule is being ignored. You can do this via email or in person – whatever you think is most appropriate. Try to get an answer. Very important in this first step is don’t play your cards right away. You want to be non-combative and exploratory. There may be a very meaningful reason you haven’t thought of. If the Board refuses to answer or gives a subpar answer, you need to escalate the issue. Inform them why you think the issue is important and a problem for the Association. Give them another chance to adjust it. You might be surprised – they may be unaware of their own rules, for example. Sometimes awareness and education will lead to a rapid resolution.
Be Willing to Fight
If you really are upset about the issue and want to make a change, your first step is to lead a resistance movement. Resistance movements are cheaper than lawyers. It also is important to see if you can get other Owners who care about the issue to show up. If you can’t, that could be a sign of major apathy in your Association, which is its own challenge.
If this fails, or you feel VERY strongly, you should consider hiring a lawyer. Rules enforcement is very straightforward – you either do it, or you don’t. While there is some wiggle room for Associations (your state’s Condo Act may vary), if they’re outright not doing something or selectively enforcing something, that’s easy to fight. Be warned, however, that legal fights are never cheap and never fast. You really need to be willing to battle over this. In some cases, like the lack of short-term rental enforcement, it can be worth it. But there are many minor cases where it won’t be.
Do You Want to Be Right or Happy?
Rules enforcement is a tricky issue. There are no simple answers. You must approach the issue in a very staged, methodical and steady manner. Don’t rush to assumption – first attempt to lead your Board to the right answer. If they prove incapable of that, you need to assess whether the fight is worth it. For big things, it’s easy to make the decision. If you’re not so sure if it’s worth the fight, then you may have your answer of how to handle Condo Association rules being ignored.