K.S. from Fairfield County writes:
Dear Mister Condo,
I am getting fined for small infractions. I mean really tedious infractions. I’m sick of it. I own my unit, and the mortgage is paid off. What could/would happen if I refuse to pay?
Mister Condo replies:
K.S., I am sorry to hear of your tedious infraction problem. Fines for infractions should be a community’s last resort to correct resident behavior. Not paying the fines once they are levied is one way to go but it could end up costing you more than money in the long run. All is not lost so let’s talk about a few things you can and should do.
The first thing is to stop breaking the rules of the association. I assume everyone who is breaking the rules is getting the same treatment so either the rules are overbearing and should be eased or removed or the people breaking the rules need to change their behavior. You didn’t get into specifics of what infractions you are being targeted for but two of the more common rules people get fined over are pet violations and parking. If Rover is barking and neighbors are complaining, you need to stop the dog from barking. Everyone is happy and the problem is solved. If you are parking in a fire zone while you unload groceries from your car, stop doing that and the problem goes away.
However, just because rules are being broken, the Board cannot simply issue fines. There is due process in our state that generally calls for a written warning to be issued, followed by a letter of intent to issue a fine along with an invitation for the offender to speak to the Board at an upcoming meeting. After hearing from the offender, the Board then decides to issue the fine or let the event go without a fine being issued. If these procedures are not being followed, you would have a case to challenge these fines in small claims court.
As to what can happen if you do not pay your fines, which really depends on the Board and how astute they are in their collections process. They could turn your account over to a collections agency. They could get an attorney involved who would seek relief through the Courts. That could mean you’d not only owe fines but even the legal fees incurred by the Board to take action against you. Of course, that also means that the association would have to win their suit against you. If they didn’t follow the correct procedures along the way, that isn’t very likely. Still, it is a hassle and inconvenience and stress for you to endure this process.
The best solution, in my opinion, is to simply follow the rules. They were in place when you moved in and they were put there to assure a safe and peaceful environment for all unit owners. You are well within your rights to contact an attorney t discuss this matter. If you feel you are being singled out or harassed, by all means, bring suit against your association. The fine system should be used as a last resort and only after all other remedies have been applied. The bottom line is that fines are as annoying to the Board as they are to the unit owner. Better that everyone involved simply voluntarily agree to abide by the rules of the association as they did when they purchased a unit within the association. All the best!