Q&A: Notices and Fining Procedures

Must notices of rule violations be sent by certified mail? Can they be sent via priority/tracking mail? Can they be sent by email? Must complaints by others to a rules committee always be placed on standardized form or can they be emails, texts or even phone calls? Can certain violations like parking without permission or loud noise be "automatically fine-able" and then appealable to the board?

—Above Board in Bordentown

“The governing documents of most community associations set forth the method by which notices must be sent to unit owners. If the governing documents require that notices be sent by certified mail, then the community association is obligated to use that method of delivery,” says Donna Shahrabani, an attorney and a partner at the law firm of Buckalew Frizzell & Crevina LLP in Glen Rock. “If the governing documents simply require that notices be sent by regular, first class mail, the notice must be sent using that method, and then the association can use an additional method, such as email or priority/tracking mail, if it wishes. It is always recommended to also use a method of delivery that will provide proof of delivery, so that the unit owner cannot deny having received notice of the violation.

“Again, the answer to this question lies in the governing documents of the association. As association’s governing documents may require that complaints regarding rules violations be submitted on a standardized form. If the governing documents are silent on that issue, there may be a board resolution regarding the submission of complaints.

“If there are no specific requirements in either the governing documents or a board resolution, then the complaint can be submitted by any form of communication selected by the person asserting the complaint. However, it is prudent for associations to require that rule violation complaints be submitted in writing so that nothing is lost in the verbal transmission of information to the association. 'Writing' would certainly include emails. I know of no association that will accept a complaint via text message.

“The New Jersey Condominium Act provides that an association can impose a fine for failure to comply with the association’s master deed, bylaws or rules and regulations under certain circumstances, including that, prior to the imposition of the fine, “the unit owner is given written notice of the action taken,” and “is advised of the right to participate in alternative dispute resolution.” Accordingly, associations cannot shoot first and ask questions later.

“Instead, they must provide the unit owner with notice of the alleged basis for the fine and offer the unit owner an opportunity to participate in ADR before the imposition of a fine is finalized. An association’s governing documents may include even more stringent requirements than the Condominium Act, in which case the association must comply with those requirements also.”

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