Barker Martin

Condo-HOA Blog

Misadventures in Rulemaking

Arguably the most challenging task a community association board of directors can undertake is drafting rules and regulations for their community.  Good intentions, but bad drafting, can lead to unanticipated results and make enforcement difficult or impossible. 

The latest example comes from Chesterfield, Missouri where a homeowners’ association sued an owner, after imposing fines in excess of $3,000, over the condition of his 1965 Ford F-250 pickup truck.  According to the owner, the truck is mechanically sound, runs and drives well, and its body is straight and solid.  The truck’s finish, though, bears the marks of decades of normal wear, with paint rubbed off the most-handled surfaces and areas of primer and light surface rust.  In other words, it’s a 50 year old truck that looks like it should, and is an example of a desirable state of age and wear and careful maintenance known as “patina” that actually makes the truck much more valuable. 

The HOA clearly disagreed and determined the truck violated an association rule prohibiting “vehicles with moderately severe body damage” from parking in driveways within the community. 

This situation is a perfect example of bad rulemaking and its potential consequences.  The problem with the HOA’s rule, of course, is that “moderately severe body damage” is a vague term without any clear definition, and requires the HOA’s Board to subjectively determine what violates the rule and invites inconsistent enforcement.  What constitutes “damage”?  If damage is “severe” how can it also be “moderate”?  Are owners prohibited from using their own driveway if their car is damaged in an accident?  I could go on, but the point is that this particular rule raises more questions than answers, and should never have been adopted.

Barker Martin has assisted many community associations in Washington and Oregon in drafting and reviewing rules and regulations.  Good rules effectively communicate what actions are prohibited so that owners understand what is and is not permitted.  Good rules set reasonable, objective standards that can be uniformly applied without allowing the Board any discretion.  If your association would like a review of its rules and regulations, or if your association needs assistance enforcing the rules adopted by the Board, please let us know – and don’t let your community make the news for bad rulemaking.