Holding an HOA disciplinary hearing is common practice among many homeowners associations when a violation has occurred. Both the HOA board and homeowners must know what to do when faced with this hearing.
What Is an HOA Disciplinary Hearing?
A disciplinary hearing is a formal meeting between the HOA board and the homeowner accused of a violation. The goal of an HOA disciplinary hearing is to provide the homeowner a chance to explain their side of the story before the board decides to impose discipline.
Anyone who has ever lived in a community managed by an HOA knows that there are certain rules to follow within the association. These rules exist to maintain order in the neighborhood and protect the property values of the community. Every now and then, though, a homeowner will break a rule either intentionally or unintentionally. When that happens, the association has the authority to impose discipline, which usually takes the form of monetary fines. Of course, other forms of enforcement also exist.
Prior to imposing discipline, associations will normally hold a disciplinary hearing for the homeowner. During the hearing, the homeowner can address the violation. After listening to the homeowner, the HOA board will then make a decision.
The Requirements of HOA Disciplinary Hearings
There are some states that require associations to hold disciplinary hearings by law. One such example is California. However, for a vast majority of associations, the requirement to hold disciplinary hearings can be found within their governing documents. These documents also typically contain other provisions concerning the hearing.
If your HOA doesn’t currently require hearings, it’s a good idea to start doing so. Disciplinary hearings give homeowners a chance to be heard, so it plays a critical role in fostering a healthy relationship between owners and the board.
While the exact requirements of an HOA disciplinary hearing can vary, they generally include the following:
The first thing associations should do is send an HOA notice of disciplinary hearing to the homeowner who violated a rule. The length of notice can change from one association to another. For example, in California, the law requires that written notice must be sent to the homeowner at least 10 days prior to the hearing. If the disciplinary action involves a suspension of the owner’s privileges, the length of notice goes up to at least 15 days prior to the meeting.
At the very least, the notice must consist of the following information:
- The date, time, and venue of the disciplinary hearing;
- A description of the alleged violation that the homeowner has committed; and,
- A statement that the homeowner has a right to attend the disciplinary hearing and talk to the board at said hearing.
Holding the Hearing
Most associations hold disciplinary hearings in private or executive sessions. This means that no other homeowners, apart from the owner being disciplined, can attend the meeting with the board. The requirement to hold hearings in an executive session will depend on state laws and the governing documents. In California, though, boards must conduct the hearing in executive session if the homeowner requests to do so.
Making a Decision
The board must make a decision to impose discipline based on the findings at the hearing. Board members must remember to always act in good faith, making decisions in a consistent and fair manner. No decision must be made based on arbitrary interpretations or biased judgments.
Notice of Decision
If the board decides to impose discipline or fine the homeowner, the board must usually provide written notice after the hearing. The length of notice again depends on state laws or the governing documents of the association. In California, the board must provide notice in writing within 15 days.
How Homeowners Can Prepare for HOA Hearings
Receiving a notice of an HOA disciplinary hearing is probably the last thing homeowners want. But, when it happens, it is best to face it head-on instead of ignoring it. Here is how homeowners can prepare for their disciplinary hearing:
1. Understand the Governing Documents
After reading the notice of the hearing, homeowners should immediately refer to the governing documents. This will allow them to understand what rule they broke and what the possible consequences are.
It is not uncommon for boards to make a mistake or to capriciously enforce the rules. Knowledge of the community’s covenants will allow homeowners to know whether they actually committed a violation. If they did, knowing the rules also gives them a chance to correct the violation at the soonest.
2. Plan Your Presentation
Next, homeowners should let the board or HOA manager know that they will attend the hearing. To prepare, it is a good idea to plan a presentation well in advance. The presentation should include the owner’s side of the story, any relevant arguments, and any supporting documents. It is best to keep the presentation short and concise.
Sometimes, homeowners can’t attend the hearing due to a conflict in schedule or illness. In that case, homeowners should immediately let the board or HOA manager know. They can postpone the hearing to a later date, though they are not usually required to oblige with this request.
3. Attend the Hearing Alone
While it may be tempting to bring an attorney alone, homeowners best not do so. Disciplinary hearings are usually meetings between neighbors — fellow homeowners. And the association’s attorney won’t normally attend the meeting anyway. Plus, hiring an attorney will probably cost homeowners more money than the actual fine itself.
4. D-Day Actions
On the day of the meeting, homeowners should notify the board or manager that they have arrived. There may be other hearings on the same day, so owners can expect some waiting time.
During the hearing itself, homeowners should refrain from arguing too much. Instead of criticizing the rule itself, address the violation that took place. Boards don’t tend to like owners who lash out. Homeowners who have committed the violation for the first time may be able to ask for leniency, especially if the violation has already been corrected.
5. Leave the Hostility at the Door
Approaching the board with aggression and hostility is never a wise choice. Homeowners shouldn’t assume that they have been unfairly targeted by the board. Don’t bring up personal issues, and don’t think that other homeowners aren’t being punished for their violations. Most associations don’t publicize the violations of owners. The board is simply doing its job.
Can I Record My HOA Disciplinary Hearing?
Homeowners can certainly ask the board for permission to record the disciplinary hearing. But, homeowners don’t inherently possess the right to do so. The board can give their permission or deny the request to record the hearing. That is only normal.
Can Tenants Attend HOA Disciplinary Hearings?
Sometimes, homeowners will receive a notice of the hearing without actually committing the violation themselves. This can happen when an owner rents out their home and their tenant has broken the rule. Because the tenant isn’t legally a member of the association, the homeowner or landlord will have to attend the hearing. The landlord can then ask the tenant to reimburse them for the fine later on.
Best for Everyone Involved
While it may sometimes feel like it, an HOA disciplinary hearing is not a courtroom. It is a meeting among neighbors who all want the best for the association. Therefore, the board and the homeowners should prioritize civility and neighborliness during these hearings.
Are you in need of an HOA management company to keep track of violations and hearings? Clark Simson Miller is your best choice. Call us today at 865.315.7505 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more about our services.
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