How HOA fine schedules work. This reader wants to know why the condo association board fined homeowners different amounts for the same violation.

Q: Can a condo association charge different fines for exactly the same infraction? Some of us broke the same rule in our association. We took matters into our own hands in making repairs to the common elements that are next to our units. 

We had noted the problems with the association but they did not take any action so we made the repairs. Yes, we were wrong to touch common elements which do not belong to us but the association refused to repair them and they were a mess. 

For this infraction, some unit owners were fined $100, some were fined $200 and some were fined $300. The most vocal proponents of making the repairs were fined the highest amounts. We might have been the most vocal in asking for the repairs but we kept it civil. What do you think? 

HOA Fine Schedules: An Example

A: Based on your description of what happened, it does not appear right to us that different people would get fined different amounts for the same exact violation. Usually condominium associations have a list of violations and the fines that go along with those violations. In many cases, the fines go up incrementally when an owner repeatedly violates the rules. 

For example, for breaking a rule the first time, the fine might be $25, the second violation may increase that fine to $50 and the third fine could double it again to $100. (In the community where we live, the local traffic enforcement issues parking tickets that rise by $25 for each offense.)

We don’t think it’s in the board’s interest to show favoritism towards any owner and the board should follow its own rules regarding violations. There are times that boards have shown an inclination to waive a fine or reduce a fine for first-time offenders, but this can be a slippery slope for an association. 

In your situation, we don’t know if some people were first-time offenders and others have violated the rules multiple times. Or, if you attempted to fix three separate common elements and your neighbors attempted to fix only one, that could explain why you were fined $300 and another neighbor was only fined $100. 

In such situations, the board could use other circumstances to evaluate the penalty given to some people in certain circumstances. But once a board goes off of its listed rules and penalties for breaking those rules, and the process becomes subjective, the board can find itself in hot water.

Reviewing the HOA Rules and the Schedule of Fines

The first thing you should do is get a copy of the rules and schedule of fines. Once you review those rules and the schedule of fines, you should see if those same rules and the schedule give the board any latitude in determining whether to levy a fine, lower the fine or waive it altogether. If the rules don’t give the board the right to waive or lower the fine, you might be able to claim that the board isn’t following the rules that they have established and that you shouldn’t have to pay the full fine either.

Depending on the association governing documents and the laws regulating condominiums in your state, the board may or may not have discretion in this area. If they don’t have the discretion to issue different fines for similar violations, the board may have violated their duty to the unit owners and may have done something wrong in assessing fines to unit owners.

On the other hand, if the rules, governing documents or laws in the state give latitude to boards in this area, the board may have the ability to enforce the rules and subjectively assign penalties. If this is the case, you might be out of luck and have to pay the full fine. 

For more information, you might have to consult an attorney that concentrates their practice in condominium law, but we suspect hiring that attorney may cost more than paying the fine. 

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