The HOA Act states that, unless otherwise provided in an association’s governing documents, an association may adopt and amend rules and regulations. RCW 64.38.020(1). With such broad authority, how does a board know if a rule goes too far? Is there a rule of thumb?
I thought about these questions recently after hearing about an HOA in California that passed a rule requiring all of its owners to leave their garage doors open during the day. The purpose of the rule, apparently, was to prevent owners from using their garage as a living space. Presumably, with all garage doors open, any resident allowing folks to live in their garage could be identified and fined. I suppose that makes sense. However, what was apparent to me and anyone else who heard the story was that if residents complied with the rule, they may be placing themselves or loved ones at risk of robbery, burglary, or worse. Did the problem justify such extreme measures?
One of the central pillars of association rulemaking is that rules must be reasonable. Some jurisdictions, like California, actually have laws that require rules to be reasonable. In Washington, there is a strong enough inference based on case law and decisions from other jurisdictions that reasonableness and rulemaking are inseparable. In short, rules for both condominium and homeowner associations must be reasonable. In addition to reasonable, rules must comply with state and federal laws, comply with other governing documents, and rules should be in the best interests of the Association as a whole. I also believe it is useful to consider the severity of the harm you are attempting to prevent, and weigh that against the restriction you adopt to prevent it.
A board must consider a number of factors, such as the ones mentioned above, when exercising rulemaking authority. Is there a rule of thumb to know if a rule is reasonable? Probably not. However, it may be possible to create a rule of thumb to designate when a rule is unreasonable.
It turns out that the best part of the garage door story (in my opinion) was when the reporter quoted a clever young (9-year-old) resident of the community, who explained he was afraid his bike, scooter, wheelchair, and other belongings would be stolen if they complied with the new rule. Of course, those were the immediate concerns shared by nearly everyone who read the story.
The reader is left to wonder whether the board thought of security (and privacy) concerns before it adopted the rule. Perhaps it should have just gathered the rather astute opinions of its young residents.
Creating reasonable rules can be difficult sometimes. Let us know if we can help.