A homeowners association is an organization that oversees key actions in a residential subdivision. Every association is governed by its bylaws, which new owners must sign as a contract. The association requires homeowners to maintain levels of cleanliness and prohibits them from actions that would detract from the beauty of their property or disturb neighbors. When moving into a neighborhood and signing the association contract, owners automatically become part of the homeowners association, which is managed by a board. When working properly, a homeowners association can keep a neighborhood in good repair and appealing, but if an association failures to enforce its covenants, then serious consequences can result.
Failure to Enforce
"Failure to enforce" is language commonly seen in the bylaws of homeowners associations. It usually refers to lack of action on the part of the association when a homeowner is clearly violating the bylaws. It may also refer to selective enforcement applied to some owners but not others. Sometimes the consequences the association can face are restricted by the bylaws themselves. These bylaws may actually include a clause that says the association is not legally liable for failure to enforce it laws, effectively tying its own hands.
Liability for Damages
When the association is liable for failure to enforce covenants, it may be liable for a variety of damages that occur because of violations. Generally, homeowners bring the matter to court to get a judgment, and the association must cover any damages created. This can mean a monetary reimbursement to the owner or hiring a service provider to clean, remove debris, or maintain property depending on the violation. Liability can take many forms and depends largely on the decisions made by the court ruling on the case.
In other circumstances, the court may decide that certain violations are waived because of failure to enforce bylaws. In this case, the consequence is the practical removal of the restriction from the covenant entirely. If the court deals with a case where the homeowners association is selectively enforcing a law, it may rule that no homeowner can be considered in violation of the law if some homeowners are not. This renders the restriction ineffectual.
On a broader scale, failure to enforce can have serious affects on a neighborhood. A slack homeowners association that does not enforce parts of its restrictions can be directly responsible for the lowering of property values. These values drop as the neighborhood becomes dirty, mismatched or subject to general degradation. While association bylaws may seem restrictive, they serve an important purpose in controlling market value and the effects are felt when the laws are not enforced.