L.N. from New Hampshire writes:
Dear Mister Condo,
Mister Condo replies:
L.N., no one likes seeing certain individuals get preferential treatment from those in charge. Without knowing what specific rules were bent for the benefit of which unit owners, let me offer some general advice I have found to be useful when working with condominium association Boards. There is a check and balance system in place but only if the affected unit owners take action.
Rules of the association are interpreted and enforced at the discretion of the Board of Directors or Trustees, who are the democratically elected leaders of the association. Therefore, when poor governance such as selective rules enforcement is demonstrated, it is time for some new volunteers to run for the Board. If no new volunteers are willing or popular enough with their fellow unit owners to get elected, the community often gets what it deserves, which can range from simply poor governance to more outrageous events, like misappropriated funds and preferential treatment for Board members and their “friends”. That being said, Board members can find themselves on the receiving end of discrimination lawsuits if they selectively go after individuals for breaking the rules and yet choose not to enforce the same rule even handedly with all association members. For instance, if two unit owners both park in the Fire Lane and only one is noticed, fined, or towed, that unit owner may be able to claim that they were unfairly singled out. If there is a repeated pattern of such abuse, and the abused owner is willing to take action (bring suit), the Board may find itself in trouble.
On the other hand, Boards are also free to selectively enforce rules as long as they do so completely and not selectively. For instance, I know of many associations that have a one pet per unit rule and yet many units boast two or more pets. As long as the Board doesn’t single out any one unit owner for enforcement of that rule, the rule is “bent” for the benefit of all unit owners. I don’t agree with this type of governance but it is fairly common in my experience.
The bottom line is the quality and quantity of well-meaning volunteer unit owners to provide their condominium association with good governance practices. That means maintaining, protecting, and enhancing the common elements and providing an even application of the rules for all unit owners. Common interest communities like condominiums are only as enjoyable to live in as the Board members allow them to be. With the right folks in office, many associations thrive. However, when individuals with self-serving agendas or selective rules enforcement take charge, it can be quite unpleasant. Use the power of the vote to get the leaders your deserve. All the best!