J.S. from New Haven County, Connecticut writes:
Dear Mister Condo,
Recently, our Association Management Company sent a resident a fine letter assessing a $25 fee for washing their vehicle in their driveway. While the whole washing of vehicles is HEAVILY debated, they are saying if the $25 is not paid within 30 days the late fee will be $25/month of not being paid. So, if my math is correct, a $25 fee in January could cost the homeowner $275 in late fees or penalties. Something about this just seems downright unlawful in CT. Is this practice of levying fines and then charging late fees on those fines allowable and legal?
Mister Condo replies:
J.S., no condo owner wants to be fined or pay a penalty for not paying that fine in timely fashion. However, fines and fees are the primary tools at a condo Board’s disposal for maintaining order and adherence to association rules. How else could they achieve compliance? How else could they cite violations and enforce collections?
That being said let me offer a few observations based on your question. First off, the Association Management Company should be issuing fines at the request or direction of the Board. There is a process that needs to be followed. A violation is observed by the Management Company or reported to the Management Company be a resident. A notice should be sent to the alleged offender along with a request to discontinue the violation. The unit owner being cited should be offered an opportunity to explain to the Board their side of the story. The Board can then decide what action to take. Since you mention that the offense of car washing is heavily debated in your community, I would think people that continue to wash their cars on the property have been previously notified that car washing is not allowed, even if there is an ongoing debate. So the Board may have given the Management Company standing orders to issue fines to any unit owner found in violation of the Association rules. It sounds to me like that is what happened here.
As for the fine not being paid in timely fashion causing further costs in the form of late fees, that is certainly possible. A fine or assessment is no different than a common fee in that it has a due date. Any fees not paid in timely fashion are subject to late charges. It would be unwise not to pay a fee in timely fashion knowing that there will be a late charge compounding that fee. As for it compounding to $275 over time, I assume you mean if it wasn’t paid for an entire year. That sounds outrageous and most folks would pay it immediately so that is not likely to become an issue.
Voluntary compliance with the condo rules is the goal of every condo Board and Management Company. Fines and fees do not better the community or the condo living experience. It is truly unfortunate that a common issue like car washing cannot be clearly decided upon by the community. It should either be allowed or disallowed. Residents may not like the outcome but if they are told definitively that it is not allowed, they will know they are violating the rules and risking a fine if they perform the activity. Most likely, they will simply have their car washed off premise and rinse themselves of the liability. Cleaner cars, better community. Everybody wins!