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"My Turn" opinion piece published 03/13/2009 in the Scottsdale Republic

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HOA must do its job with fairness, consistency

Maybe you live in a Homeowners Association (HOA) as I do. And perhaps you've received a letter like the one I received - a violation notice from my HOA's management company for leaving my garbage can outside the day after collection. The letter told me, in words that weren't mean, but not particularly friendly, to correct the situation - and it also told me if the violation isn't fixed or if it repeats, I could be fined $50.

Many homeowners are offended by such a notice, and even more are offended by the TONE of those violation notices.

But as the president of my own HOA, I understand what's going on, and want to help responsible homeowners everywhere deal with these occasional infraction notices.

First, it's important to remember that HOA rules, whether in the Covenants, Covenants and Restrictions or in the Rules and Regulations, are designed to protect property values and lifestyles of the people in the community. Since most find the community more attractive without trash cans in sight, my HOA has rules that they must be stored out of sight except on collection days. Similarly, most of my neighbors don't like to see recreational vehicles parked in front of or alongside their neighbors' homes, so this is also prohibited.

Second, the purpose of sending violation letters is not to generate revenue for the HOA. And it's not to annoy. The HOA is looking for compliance, not fines. Believe me, HOAs don't want your fines - they simply want you to comply with the rules in order to protect the property values and quality of life. That's why it takes many repeat offenses to generate a fine.

Third, the association is obligated to enforce rules fairly and consistently. A typical response to receiving violation notices is "This is the first time in four years I've forgotten to bring in my trash can and I get this nasty letter. It was just one time!"

The problem of course is that when a first violation occurs, the HOA doesn't know whether it's an isolated incident (like my once-every-three years forgetting to put the can away) or if it's is the first of many repeat occurrences. Just in case it's the start of a repeating pattern of violations, all violations must receive a notice. Otherwise, the HOA would be guilty of discrimination.

In order to be fair and consistent, the HOA must act on all violations.

Fourth, the letter - even for the first or infrequent accidental violation - is a necessary step in case stronger actions are needed in the future for repeated violations. Arizona statutes dictate the steps needed if the HOA will be allowed to fine, take legal action, or otherwise get repeat or chronic offenders to comply.

In fact, I often hear from homeowners who want to know why we haven't acted more quickly to correct repeat offenses; the answer is the HOA's hands are tied by laws telling us what we must do BEFORE we escalate the process.

So in order to deal effectively with the worst neighbors, everyone must get the same initial letter - which includes a legal notice that repeated violations might result in fines. HOAs wish the wording of those violations notices was friendlier - but Arizona statute dictates, to a great extent, the required wording.

So remember - when you get that violation notice for the one time you forgot to bring in your recycle bin, remember the HOA simply wants the situation corrected. They don't want your money and they're not trying to annoy you. So simply fix the violation and thank your HOA for protecting your community's home values and quality of life.


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