Q. There are many unruly children in our neighborhood, and many of the parents do not seem to care. We have spent thousands on vandalism, and many of the children continue to trespass into the neighboring private community. Most of the children live in rented homes. Our HOA Board realizes we cannot refuse a lease because of children but has finally arrived at the conclusion that any time a child breaks the HOA’s rules, if they are a renter we would like to cancel their lease with appropriate notice or not renew it. If the children live with homeowners, our Board imposes fines against the owner. We get reports from certain residents regarding the violations and do our best to document, but we cannot always get pictures. What specifically can we do to control this situation? Can we cancel a lease because of rules violations? Are there other options available to us?
A. The legal options in this scenario depend largely on the strength of your governing documents. If your community documents have “teeth” with respect to rules violations, chances are you have the ability to impose fines against owners and tenants in addition to the right to evict unruly tenants. Adults residing in your community are responsible for the actions of their children, so your association does have the right to take action if the children are violating the community rules. An effective enforcement process starts with documenting the violation and sending proper written notice to the owner or tenant. If the violation is not cured after reasonable written notice from the association or its manager, it may be possible for the association’s legal counsel to start the eviction process for a tenant if there is supporting language in the community documents. Well-drafted documents include language allowing the association to stand in the shoes of the unit owner and evict an unruly tenant and recover legal fees in the process. Another effective strategy for managing unruly tenants is to require an additional security deposit payable to the association. This deposit can be used to pay for any damage caused to common areas or pay fines imposed for violations. Rule-abiding tenants will likely pay the deposit, but careless tenants will likely balk at the deposit and rent somewhere else. Finally, your HOA always has the right to demand that owners and/or tenants participate in mandatory mediation in connection with any rules violations. This process is required by statute for many disputes in your community and forces the unruly owner or tenant to spend money on a mediator and lawyer in the mediation process. If the owner or tenant refuses mediation, the association can file a lawsuit to compel compliance and recover legal fees incurred in the process. You should have your legal counsel review the enforcement portions of your documents and determine whether there is sufficient strength and whether an amendment may be necessary to provide the options discussed above.