You’ve prepared for your hearing and held your hearing – now it’s time for you to decide the outcome. This is the judgment and penalty phase of the hearing process. Unlike the other phases, in this phase, you’re dealing with your fellow Board members. Depending on your Board composition, this may make things harder or easier. Here are the steps to effectively judge Condo Association hearings.
Decide if the Owner is Guilty
While this may be the stuff of crime dramas and legal procedurals, in a Condo Association, it is usually comparatively straightforward when you judge Condo Association hearings. Usually you have smoking gun evidence of some sort – video, audio, or witness testimony – to make the decision. In “he said, she said” type cases, things are trickier, but by and large you usually know if the Owner is guilty or not. The challenge becomes determining what the punishment is going to be.
Always Consult Precedent First
One of the most important steps when you judge Condo Association hearings is to consult precedent. This makes your life easier in a couple of ways. First, it helps you decide if you will find someone guilty or not in the first place. In cases with gray areas, like noise violations, previous Board decisions can help you decide where the line is. For example, if you’ve only issued a warning when one person complains but a fine when three people complain about the same noisy Owner, you can use that as a roadmap.
In the punishment phase, your rules, if effectively written, may clearly lay out what the punishment is. For example, your Condo Association might have comprehensive pet rules. The pet rules might indicate the punishment for violation on first offense is a warning, second is $50, third $250, and so on. If your rules don’t prescribe penalties, try to follow past precedents if possible – if you’ve issued $100 fines for first offenses of a similar nature, issue $100. A great way to track precedents is to use electronic collaboration tools and maintain a list of actions for future Boards to use.
Make Sure the Punishment Fits the Crime
If no precedent is available, you need to use your best judgment. Fines should not be incredibly onerous – for example, a first-time offender for a minor nuisance shouldn’t be fined $500. For borderline issues where you’re pretty sure the Owner is guilty but you lack clear evidence, a warning is usually a compromise. For other issues, like verbal abuse of a staff member, you may want to issue a harsher penalty.
Remember – the goal of fines is to stop the behavior, not raise money. If the behavior is comparatively minor, then minimize the fine. If you’re dealing with repeat issues with a problem Owner, or issues related to abuse, then you should increase the fine amounts. Such behavior is intolerable and must be punished.
Another important tool you can use is to hold the fine “in abeyance.” This is basically probation for the Owner. If they stop the behavior, then no fine is assessed. However, if they break the same rule again, the previous fine is assessed and a new fine can be added. This is a great tool for curbing bad behavior of relatively new offenders, and it is fair to all parties involved.
Explain Why You Reached Your Verdict
Once you make a decision, ensure you are transparent with the Owner as to why you reached the decision you did. Cite the evidence and why it made for a compelling argument (or didn’t). Provide justification for the fine amount as well. For example, if you have a schedule of fines that’s available in the rules, point to that document. If the Owner’s behavior is particularly unbecoming, note that the Association strives for a respectful community and the Owner’s actions violate that.
Be Fair, Be Transparent, and Trust Your Instinct
Hearings are never fun. Even when you have an Owner who is completely in the wrong, it is still not an enjoyable experience to go through the hearing process. When you get to the point of needing a hearing, likely one party is simply not communicating with others. No matter how you judge Condo Association hearings, you may end up making an enemy. This is unfortunately unavoidable. Instead what you need to focus on is the importance of upholding the rules, maintaining a pleasant living environment, and ensuring the process was done in a fair, professional, and transparent manner.