Rules of the House Enforcing Yours Consistently-and Fairly

Every condo and co-op community has rules and regulations by which residents and their guests must abide. For the most part, these rules are pretty straightforward: no smoking in common areas, no pets, no skateboarding in the courtyard, and so forth. Sometimes, however, the board of a homeowners association will try to implement a rule that is either unenforceable or oversteps its powers—or a board may try to level penalties against rule-breakers that are either unrealistic or legally unsound.

What are good rules and bad rules, and what is the difference between them? What rights do boards have when rules are broken—and what rights do residents have when penalties are imposed? What are "rules," anyway, as opposed to say, bylaws? Let's take a look.

Rules are Rules—Except when they're Bylaws

By-laws concern the procedural requirements for operation and governance of the entity, while house rules are less technical and tend to involve primarily quality-of-life issues. Put simply, the former carry more weight than the latter. This makes by-laws harder to change and easier to enforce.

"It's an order of preference," explains Bob Shanahan, an attorney and partner with Kilcommons Shanahan LLC in Annandale. "There's the U.S. Constitution, the state constitution, state statutes, case law, the master deed, the bylaws, and then the house rules."

The lower down the ladder, the less carved in stone the given rule or regulation. You can't establish a bylaw that violates the U.S. Constitution; you can't, for example, pass a bylaw that discriminates on anyone covered under the equal protection clause of the Civil Rights Act.

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