I recently received a letter from my association’s management company that they are fining me $50 for adding a new light to the front of my home without their approval, and the letter states that the fines will continue to increase until the issue is resolved. Is it legal for the management company to fine homeowners and, if so, shouldn’t I at least have the ability to respond or defend myself before I receive a $50 fine? — Tyler F.
The roles and responsibilities of management companies, as well as the legal authority to levy fines, are common questions asked by homeowners and board members alike.
First, allow me to discuss the relationship between an association, its members and their management, and then I will address homeowner rights as they relate to disciplinary action.
There is a common misconception regarding the roles, responsibilities and powers of an association’s management company.
Management companies work at the pleasure of the community’s members and at the direction of the association’s board of directors.
Management companies and their representatives do not have the power or authority to make decisions or take action without the board’s consent.
If a fine is levied against a homeowner for a noncompliance issue related to the association’s governing documents, the fine would have been approved and implemented by the board of directors, not the management company.
The management company is simply the entity responsible for handling the administrative directives of the association’s board of directors, so although the violation and/or fine might be printed on the management company’s letterhead or reference a management company representative for questions, the decision and direction would have come from the board of directors.
The role of management is to provide professional guidance to the board of directors, to aid them in the decision-making process and implement the directives and decisions made by the board.
As it relates to an association’s ability to levy fines or take other disciplinary actions, homeowners living in an association are afforded certain legal rights.
California law is very specific regarding the steps necessary to approve and implement disciplinary action against an owner.
Homeowners must receive written notice regarding the nature of the violation and the potential infractions, whether they are monetary fines, suspension of voting rights or suspension of privileges, such as use of common area amenities.
Additionally, prior to any disciplinary action, owners must be provided the opportunity to be heard by the board of directors, which is usually referred to as a hearing.
Hearings typically take place during the private executive session of a board meeting. The law requires that homeowners receive notice at least 10 days prior to the date of the hearing and they must be permitted a reasonable amount of time during the hearing to address the matter.
Based on the results of the hearing, the board of directors will make a decision regarding how to proceed and are required to provide the homeowner with a written response within 15 days following the hearing. If you would like to research your rights as a member further, I encourage you to refer to California Civil Code 1363.
Additionally, I suggest reviewing your association’s governing documents as there may be additional disciplinary steps which your board must follow.
Each of these steps is a legal prerequisite before an association’s board of directors can legally approve and implement disciplinary action.
If an owner feels that actions were taken without proper notice and/or an opportunity to address the allegations, I would suggest contacting the management company and requesting a meeting with the board of directors at the next executive session board meeting.
I advise that all requests be submitted in writing and that the purpose of the request is clearly outlined. This gives the management company and the Board the ability to proactively research your concern further, insuring a productive meeting and expedited resolution.