Doing What Needs to Get Done: Covenants and Community Inspections

You are not the boss of me! This phrase has been (and will continue to be) uttered from the lips of children, siblings, spouses, aging parents, employees, subordinates, clients, etc. In a world of varying perspectives, the one thing people universally agree on is that they do not like being told what to do. However, most people have no problem telling others what to do even if they do not do it (the do as I say not as I do model).

What’s interesting is the fact that all homeowners who made a conscious decision to purchase or move into a homeowners association should have been fully aware of the rules that surround this style of living. However, most people fail to read (that’s a topic for another day) documentation provided to them during the sale or rental process. Despite being one of the largest (if not the largest) single investments a person will make during their lifetime, many people fail to read and understand what it means to own and live in a homeowners.

One aspect of homeowners associations that people like (and want) is the same aspect they don’t like: architectural standards/control and covenants enforcement. The visual appeal of a well-kept community is what draws people to homeowners associations; there are acceptable standards. The governing documents provide a structure and standards that everyone is expected to follow. The standards help maintain the property values of the community.

These facets of association living are deemed necessary to “control” the behavior of others but considered a burden when applied to oneself. Why? Because everyone believes their taste in architectural changes is acceptable. Some ask, “Who does the association think they are to tell me I can’t make these changes?” When maintenance notices are sent to homeowners, some residents are riddled with excuses or want to perform maintenance on their own timetable (even if the mildew on the siding has been growing for years, the mortar in the pavers are crumbling and falling apart, the paint is peeling and chipping, the fence or other components are broken or in disrepair, the landscaping is overgrown, etc.).

Board and committee members expect homeowners to comply with the governing documents without reminders. The reality is that people need reminders, and the ugly truth is that people hate being reminded or told they must adhere to the rules and perform the maintenance or suffer the consequences: which can include fines, collection efforts such as liens against the property, and suspension of privileges. There are homeowners that think any type of notice or reminder is rude, disrespectful, and unnecessary. So, what can the association do? They can do what needs to get done: perform periodic inspections, cite homeowners not in compliance, hold covenants hearings, and have the committee or board render judgements for non-compliance.

It is difficult for committee and board members to render unfavorable judgements against their fellow homeowners and neighbors, but in order to enforce covenants with integrity; it must be applied to all homeowners. One thing is clear, it can be an uncomfortable and unpleasant experience: not only for the non-compliant homeowner, but for management staff (or vendors hired to perform inspections) who can be verbally abused when performing visual inspections or communicating with homeowners.

Covenants enforcement can be especially hard when inspections have not been performed regularly or community-wide with consistency. Course correction in any community is tough; it requires guts and persistence. As the community ages and years go by without consistent inspections, the pushback can be significant and the feedback from residents harsh. In 2022, the pushback and criticism is amplified due to COVID-related fatigue, supply-chain issues, and slower contractor response times. The adversarial nature of the enforcement increases the desire for some volunteer leaders to throw their hands up and give up – don’t do it.

The board has to make inspections a priority and allocate the proper resources to the task. Communicating the inspection process, the items to be inspected, and when inspections will start affords the homeowners time to inspect the exterior of their home in advance, identify maintenance items, and start addressing repairs or seeking and engaging contractors to make the repairs. The inspection process is not difficult, but it is tedious and labor intensive especially with 2 or more follow-up inspections. Large scale communities have additional challenges due to volume and the accompanying time it takes to complete a full cycle and get to the hearings.  Committee and board members have to commit extra volunteer hours to seeing the process through. The hearings and the resulting consequences (if necessary) will demonstrate to the community the level of commitment to the inspection process.

Persistence has its rewards: reducing the number of neighbor-to-neighbor complaints regarding lack of maintenance, increasing individual homeowner accountability for compliance, and maintaining and improving the visual character of the community which preserves property values and community desirability.

Covenants and community inspections are not popular or fun for anyone: the neighbors who report issues, the management staff or third-party vendors who perform the inspections, the homeowners who are deemed out of compliance, the committee volunteers who have to render judgements against their neighbors, and the board of directors who set community inspections as a priority. Despite the unpopularity, there is a responsibility and duty to enforce the governing documents and do what needs to get done for the betterment of the community.

By Brandi Ruff, CMCA, AMS, PCAM

Brandi currently serves as the general manager at King Farm Citizens Assembly, a large-scale HOA, located in Rockville, MD. She is an active member of the Quorum Editorial Committee and a frequent contributor. Brandi is a strong advocate of continuing education, development, and growth for everyone especially those in leadership roles.