When your HOA forces you to leave you garage door open all day: Lessons for smart association governance

A seemingly whimsical story out of California offers Florida community association boards a valuable lesson in being vigilant in enforcing the covenants of the association’s declaration and making thoughtful, considered decisions.

According to the headlines, which play up the absurd angle of the story, an association in Auburn California passed a rule requiring its residents to keep their garage doors open from 8 A.M. to 4 P.M. every weekday, or incur a $200 fine.  Because that was such an obviously horrible idea, since people often store valuable property in their garages and need to keep them secure, the association quickly rescinded its policy.  And while this story, on the surface, plays into the comical cliché of the overbearing community association, it actually has a more interesting side that serves as a teaching moment for association boards.

An owner in the association told the Sacramento Bee that, when the association started, it was mostly fourplex apartment buildings with open carports beneath the units.  The carports were to be maintained by the association as common elements.  Over time, however, some owners, in contravention of the carport’s status as common elements, installed garage doors.  Eventually, some owners allowed tenants to live in the garages, and some transients were sneaking into them and staying in them over night.  So, the association’s solution, forcing residents to leave the garages open all day, may have been misguided, but it was trying to solve a legitimate problem.

This ridiculous story offers Florida’s community association boards two important pointers for governance.  The first is the need to consistently and uniformly enforce the declaration’s covenants and rules.  If the association in the story had maintained the common elements as it was supposed to, and not allowed the owners to build garages onto the carports, the problem never would have arisen in the first place.  By allowing open and brazen violations of the covenants and rules by owners, as well as, according to the reports, selectively enforcing them against some owners and not others, the board set itself up for the issue to become a problem eventually.  Further, the board implemented a fix that they quite clearly did not fully think through, and the full implications of which they did not consider.

So, while this story offers a humorous example of the overreaching and out of touch association, boards can use their mistake as a chance to remind themselves of the necessity of consistent and considered leadership.

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