One Monday morning, I arrived at the office of one of our managed properties, and I was greeted by a visibly upset board president. Steeling myself for what was the source of her dissatisfaction, I asked “what is the matter?” “Grills, barbeque grills in the parking lot. We simply do not do this sort of thing here!” she responded emphatically. Trying my best to catch up on what we were discussing, I asked “in which parking lot?” “Well they’re not there now, are they? This was yesterday. Send them a violation letter immediately. This simply isn’t done!”, she answered.
Here is where the “uh-oh, we have a problem” part comes in…There is no rule against using barbeque grills in the parking lot. It is not a fire hazard, it is portable and therefore can be removed once the owner has finished cooking, and safely stored in the garage of the townhome. I cannot, and will not send this owner a violation letter because… it is not a written rule. As managers cannot enforce “traditions”, we can only enforce written rules passed by the board and disseminated to all the members according the governing documents and/or the governing statutes.
This particular community was built in 1972, and the governing documents have not been updated, with the exception of a few amendments, for forty years. The documents still contain the provision for delivery of official notices by telegram! One of the first discussions I had with the board when accepting the account was that they make the document revisions a priority. We are going to tackle this project in 2017.
I share this example as a cautionary tale to discourage managers from enforcing rules that are not rules. If a board member tells you to send a violation letter to an owner, and you cannot back up the violation with an actual rule, do not send the letter. You will regret it. You will send it to someone who knows their documents, and their rights, and the board will leave you swinging in the wind. They will not defend you. They will say you should have known better, and that’s why they hired you. They would be correct. This kind of mistake is not irreparable, but it will be an unnecessary annoyance.
A “rule” that is not a written rule is not enforceable.
Endeavor to persevere.
Tanoa Lynne Poirier is the Managing Principal at Poirier Enterprises Inc., specializing in the management of community associations, commercial and investment properties, and individual residences in South Florida.
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