Tips for Following Maryland's Alternative Dispute Mechanism for Condominiums
Enforcing covenant violations can be a stressful process. There are complainants, witnesses, and violators who condominium boards must all consider when pursuing a violation. This is a list of helpful tips for communities to follow when utilizing Section 11-113 of the Maryland Condominium Act.
Do:1. Be respectful to all of the parties involved. Complainants have generally had to deal with the problem for some time before reaching out to the board. Alleged violators will be defensive when being accused of a violation. Treat the matter as objectively as possible and be mindful of all of the parties' emotions.
2. Follow the process. Section 11-113 is linear and deliberate. Skipping steps will only open create problems later down the road and may open the door to challenges against fining.
3. Confirm alternate addresses. Many times violators do not actually reside in their units. They may have an alternate mailing address. Research SDAT and MD Land Recs to ensure that you have the correct address before mailing notices.
4. Hold hearings and fine. Sending multiple notices to cease and desist without holding hearings and fining will only prolong the problem. The ability to fine gives the board teeth in the enforcement process, so use it.
5. File suit if and when necessary. Sending initial violation notices, holding hearings, and fining is advised, but if the problem warrants filing suit immediately, don't forget that the board has that remedy at all times--and it can make a claim for the attorneys' fees and costs incurred in filing such suit.
Don't:1. Exceed the time limit for holding a hearing. If the violation persists after the first hearing, do not wait eleven months to send a notice of hearing and potential fines. Follow up as soon as the time for compliance has expired (not less than 10 days), and send that notice of hearing out immediately if there has been no response or abatement of the violation.
2. Create exceptions. Selective enforcement is the number one defense for violators. Creating an exception for one unit owner is a slippery slope for the enforcement of future violations within the condominium.
3. Grant multiple extensions. It's okay to give violators additional time to correct a violation, especially if certain variables are beyond their control. However, if that owner requests multiple extensions and those extensions are granted without compliance, then they have zero incentive to actually abate the issue.
4. Exceed the governing documents. Sometimes condominiums will pursue a violation that actually isn't a violation. The board will misinterpret the governing documents because it is only following what the previous board did. The first step in any covenant violation matter is to read the provision(s) for yourself.
5. Wait too long before contacting legal counsel. Initial notices, holding hearings, and fining are all possible without utilizing an attorney. However, attorneys can be very helpful in navigating the process, especially if it appears that litigation is likely. Try resolving the matter first without involving an attorney. Your management agent is a great resource, but don't be afraid to contact an attorney if it becomes apparent that one is needed.