The Connecticut Common Interest Ownership Act, gives condominium associations the power to impose reasonable fines against unit owners who don’t follow the association’s rules. The Association’s power to levy fines usually provides an effective means to force unit owners to follow the association’s rules and regulations. This power, however, should be exercised cautiously so the fines comply with the law and, are imposed in a way the unit owners perceive to be fair and reasonable. Below are some suggestions to avoid claims that the Association did not follow the right procedures in imposing the fines, and to avoid unit owner anger towards the Association. An experienced Connecticut condominium lawyer can help in determining how best to apply the rules and levy fines in a particular situation.
- Rules and Regulations. Most Associations have written rules and regulations adopted by the Association’s board of directors, as permitted by declaration, by-laws, and statute. In addition to setting forth the “do’s and don’ts” for those residing in the condominium, the rules and regulations should briefly set forth the procedure for the imposition of fines. While the Board has the discretion to determine the amount and frequency of any fines imposed, the rules and regulations can also provide guidance to unit owners and the association on the potential amount of fines (e.g., a schedule of presumptive monetary fines for specific violations) and other coercive actions (e.g., revocation of clubhouse and pool privileges for specific types of violations). This gives unit owners notice of the consequences of violating the rules, which is required by law, and is more likely to be perceived as fair by the unit owners.
- Fining Procedure. Once the board determines that a unit owner is violating a rule or regulation, the enforcement procedure must begin. The violation itself should be documented, either by the management company or the board of directors. Depending on the severity and nature of the violation, evidence should be collected (e.g., photographs showing non-compliance).
In many Connecticut common interest communities, a management company will manage the process of enforcing the rules, and implement the association’s decisions about fines. The management company must have a clear understanding of the Association’s goals and procedures in enforcing the rules . Many Associations prefer that the initial notice of a violation is given by telephone. Others require written notice of the violation as a first step. Most often, unit owners comply with the rules when they receive notice of a violation, even if the notice is just a telephone call. If the violation continues, however, the management company should send written notice of the continued violation, referencing not only the nature of the violation and the applicable rule or regulation, but also the prior notice provided to the unit owner.
The content of any written notice of fines is important. The notice should refer to the nature of the violation, the specific section number of the rule or regulation violated, and any other additional information reasonably required to apprise the unit owner of the nature of the violation. The written notice should not state that “fines have been imposed.” Instead, the notice should state that the unit owner is “subject to” a fine of a certain amount, and that the unit owner may contest the propriety of the fine at a hearing before the Association’s board of directors. Under no circumstances should a fine actually be posted to a unit owner’s account until (a) after a hearing is conducted, or (b) a reasonable amount of time has passed and the unit owner does not request a hearing. Connecticut courts have invalidated fines imposed before the unit owner received proper notice and an opportunity to be heard.
- The Hearing. The association must hold a hearing before imposing a fine if a unit owner requests it. Although a condominium association hearings are not considered formal legal proceedings, unit owners may bring legal counsel. The opportunity for a hearing, and the conduct of the hearing itself, are governed by a standard of reasonableness. In other words, the unit owner must be given a reasonable opportunity to attend the hearing, and the hearing must be conducted in a reasonable manner. This means that the unit owner must have notice of the alleged violation; notice of the time and place of the hearing; and a full and fair opportunity to be present and to present his or her side of the story.
- Notice of Fines Imposed. Unless the board of directors specifically delegates such authority to the management company, the board of directors alone has the power to impose or to levy fines. Once that determination is made, the management company should send notice to the unit owner explaining the board of directors’ decision to impose the fine and the amount of the fine. The management company also should include the fine amounts in any subsequent statements of account routinely sent to the unit owner. It is imperative that the unit owner receive not only notice of the potential for the imposition of a fine, but also notice after the fine actually has been imposed and charged on his or her account. The unit owner may try to contest the fining procedure or any resulting lien if he or she can establish prejudice due to late notice.
Failure to follow the correct procedure in imposing fines on unit owners can make this important process for enforcing rules by a Connecticut condominium association result in even more problems for an association. ZNC’s Connecticut condominium lawyers can help associations and property managers navigate this challenging process.
 Conn. Gen. Stat. § 47-244(a)(11) (a condominium association may “[i]mpose charges or interest or both for late payment of assessments and, after notice and opportunity to be heard, levy reasonable fines for violations of the declaration, by-laws, rules and regulations of the association.”). Tenants of unit owners likewise are subject to fines for violations of the declaration, by-laws, or rules and regulations. Conn. Gen. Stat. § 47-244(d)