Last weekend, I tried to take my kids to our community pool, but our card readers did not work.
I called our management company, and it told me that our card readers were turned off due to delinquent dues and fines for breaking the rules.
I am a few months behind on my dues, but I am working to get caught up, and I am working to clean up my front yard.
Can the management company just lock me out of our pool and clubhouse? What are my rights as a homeowner? – Jordan D.
An association’s ability to impose fines and revoke membership privileges, collectively referred to as member discipline, is commonly misunderstood by both board members and homeowners alike.
Although associations have not only the right, but the obligation to enforce their governing documents and rules — which include pursuing methods of member discipline — associations often misunderstand or misinterpret laws regarding an association’s responsibilities and homeowners’ rights.
I am not surprised to hear that your board of directors voted to revoke your association membership privileges given the delinquent status of your account and your outstanding rule violations. I am, however, surprised that you were never notified.
Before I address your question, please know that I am not an attorney, and I am not familiar with your community-specific governing documents, so my answer should not be considered legal advice.
“Member discipline” is typically a monetary penalty levied against an owner for violating the association’s governing documents or rules.
Member discipline may also include revoking a member’s rights and privileges, including access to association amenities and the right to vote in association elections.
To be enforceable, member discipline must be well-defined, and members must receive proper notice. Pursuant to Civil Code 1363, when an association adopts a policy to handle violations or delinquent assessments, including monetary penalties and fees, the newly adopted policy must be distributed to each member via personal delivery or first-class mail.
Prior to imposing a monetary fine or revoking membership privileges, the association’s board of directors must first formally invite the member to a hearing. The hearing is an opportunity for the member to address the alleged complaint and ultimately work with the board towards a resolution.
A formal hearing must take place prior to a board taking disciplinary actions. Hearing notifications must be in writing, sent to the owner at least 10 days prior to hearing and include the date, time, location and the alleged violation or reason for the hearing.
The law states that hearings must be held in private during an executive session meeting if requested by the owner. In the interest of protecting the homeowner’s privacy and working toward an amicable resolution, I always encourage boards to meet with homeowners in private to discuss membership-discipline-related topics regardless of whether the owner specifically requests it.
Following a member disciplinary hearing, boards will typically consider the information gathered at the hearing and vote on the appropriate action, which may include an extension to resolve non-compliance issues, imposing fines and/or revoking privileges.
It is important to note that a homeowner who ignores a board’s call to hearing is still subject to member discipline, so it is in the owner’s best interest to attend the hearing, state his or her case and work toward a resolution to avoid potential penalties. The association must notify the owner of the board action in writing within 15 days following the hearing.
While homeowners have the responsibility to strictly adhere to the association’s governing documents and rules, associations have an obligation to follow the legally required disciplinary procedures.
Given that you first learned your membership privileges were revoked when your recreation-center card reader stopped working, I would suggest sending a formal letter to the board of directors requesting a meeting to confirm that it met its obligations of due process prior to revoking your privileges, and to discuss a resolution to bring your assessments current and your property into compliance.