Hearings are a necessary evil for any large Association. Condo Associations create rules – sometimes lots of them. Generally, a cease and desist deters most Owners from breaking the rules. Every now and then, however, you need to hold a formal hearing. This usually occurs when you have to issue a fine because an Owner has refused to follow the cease and desist. The first step in being successful with this process is to make sure you prepare for a Condo Association hearing. Without good preparation, the hearing is doomed to fail.
Brush Up on the Rules
First and foremost, if your Condo Association hasn’t held a hearing in some time, brush up on your own rules. A hearing has the potential to be very emotionally charged. As a Board, you need to make sure you understand the process and are able to project an aura of competence and control. Check your Bylaws and, if applicable, rules. It is both detrimental and embarrassing if the Board doesn’t know their own process. You also should make the same rules related to the hearing process available to the Owner participating in the hearing. Ensuring they are informed will lead to a smoother show.
Make Sure You Know Who’s Running the Show
This is one of the most important steps when you prepare for a Condo Association hearing. If your Board has strong personalities, it is important to make sure it’s clear who is running the process administratively. If the Board members are talking over each other and fighting over what comes next, it undermines your authority and will lead to trouble. You should pre-meet – email is fine – as a group to discuss logistics and process to ensure the Board is on the same page administratively. It is fine for the Board to have different opinions as to the outcome of the hearing, but the process should not be disputed.
Identify if You Need Legal Counsel Present
Determining whether or not a lawyer is needed is a crucial step to prepare for a Condo Association hearing. If an issue is particularly contentious, or if an Owner indicates they will be bringing their own counsel, you may want to involve the Association’s lawyers. Although it will add to the cost substantially, there are cases where it makes strategic sense and will forestall future issues. You don’t want to be penny wise and pound foolish when it comes to hearings, so bring your lawyer if the situation calls for it.
Have All Evidence Ready Ahead of the Meeting
Make sure you’ve got your witnesses or their statements, video footage, and any other relevant evidence ready for the hearing. If you’re relying upon eye witness reports, you need to make sure they actually show up, or have signed written statements; otherwise your ability to act may be diminished. If your rules indicate you need to provide copies of evidence to the accused Owner, ensure you’ve done so in compliance with your Bylaws. If you skip any process steps, you may open up the door to legal action from the Owner in the future.
The best meeting outcomes occur when you’ve already done your legwork ahead of time. If you ensure that you prepare for a Condo Association hearing in the proper way, you’re a step ahead of the game. These steps will help you prepare for the hearing itself, which will be a future article.