Frequently Asked Questions

You live in a homeowners association (“HOA”) or a condominium (“condo”) and you want to build a shed or put up Halloween decorations outside your unit. So, you build that shed or you put up orange lights and a pumpkin on your balcony. The next thing you know, the HOA or condo board has sent you a notice of violation to immediately remove that shed or the decorations. You decide not to heed the notice or you forget about it. Then you get a notice of hearing or a letter threatening a lawsuit. Now you are concerned about the possibility of being fined or even having to pay the other side’s legal fees. Not only that, but you are upset that your neighbors, who are on the board, are the ones threatening you. What are your rights? This article gives a few tips.

Read the Governing Documents

When you buy a home in an HOA or condo, the seller must give you a set of the community’s “governing documents.” These often include: 1. A copy of the declaration (other than the plats); 2. The bylaws; and, 3. The rules or regulations. After you get these documents, you have a certain amount of time to cancel the sales contract without a penalty. However, once the sale is closed, you can no longer choose to cancel the contract. The governing documents are usually recorded in the county land records or HOA depository where the home is located.

You must review your governing documents as soon as you get them from the seller.  This is very important, but many people don’t do it. This will inform you of things like use restrictions, assessments, voting rights, board powers, etc. The rules in the declaration are called “covenants.” The declaration and bylaws are binding contracts that may personally require you to comply with these rules. (For example, you may find out by reading the documents that the HOA prohibits above-ground pools, and you planned to install an above-ground pool once you moved in. In that case, you may want to cancel the contract of sale.) As you buy a new home, set aside the time to read the documents.  It can save you a great deal of time, money, and headache.

Read the Law: MD Code, Real Property, Section 11-135(link is external)MD Code, Real Property, Section 11B-106(link is external)

The Maryland Homeowners Association Act and the Maryland Condominium Act

The Maryland Homeowners Association Act (“HOA Act”) and the Maryland Condominium Act (“Condo Act”) are sets of laws that apply to homeowners associations and condominiums in Maryland. They can be found in the Real Property Article of the Maryland Code. If your set of governing documents are silent about a legal topic or are outmoded, then these laws help fill in the gaps. There are also laws that will trump the rules in your governing documents for subjects like family day care homes, no-impact home-based businesses, political signs, and distribution of written materials, etc.

Reading your governing documents as well as the laws in the HOA Act or the Condo Act can help answer your questions.

Read the Law: MD Code, Real Property, Section 11-101(link is external) through 11-143(link is external) (Maryland Condominium Act); MD Code, Real Property, Section 11B-101(link is external) through 11B-118(link is external) (Maryland Homeowners Association Act)

Initial Demand

Typically, the first thing you will get in any covenant enforcement will be a letter.  This may be called a “notice of violation,” an “initial demand,” an “initial violation notice,” a “cease and desist notice,” or it may just be a friendly reminder.  The title of the letter may vary, but it will likely point out the violation, tell you what you need to do to fix it, and how long you have to fix it in order to avoid a penalty. The time limit may vary depending on the type of violation, the governing documents, and law.

Section 11-113 of the Condo Act lays out a process for condos to follow to settle disputes when there is a covenant violation. By law, in a condo, the owner must be given at least ten (10) days to remove a violation. Governing documents for condos often refer to Section 11-113 of the Condo Act when enforcing covenants.

The HOA Act does not include a similar 10-day rule. Most governing documents for HOAs do not have a set of procedures for enforcing covenants unless created by rule or regulation.

If you have been cited by the HOA or condo for a violation, read your governing documents again to find out which covenant they say you have violated. Violations of other HOA or condo rules or regulations are also violations, which the HOA or condo can enforce. (However, some HOAs only have the authority to govern violations in common areas and not the lots, so find out what powers your HOA has to enforce its covenants and where).  It is most important to confirm that there is an actual basis (a written requirement) for the notice of violation, and to make sure that the board has the power to enforce such a rule.

If so, then look up any written procedures that are in place, for enforcing the covenants in your community.  Make sure that your HOA or condo is following them.

Read the Law: MD Code, Real Property, Section 11-113(link is external)

Hearing and Fining

If the problem has not been fixed within the time requested by your HOA or condo, then you may receive a notice of hearing.

In a condo, this notice will:

  • tell you the nature of the violation,
  • tell you the time and place of the hearing, (this may not be less than ten (10) days after they give the notice),
  • invite you to attend the hearing and bring any statement, evidence, or witness on your behalf, and
  • tell you of the proposed penalty.

An HOA may or may not have a written procedure for holding hearings.  However, in order for the HOA to fine you, there must be an express covenant giving the HOA the authority to fine members for violations.

Hearings occur in executive sessions with the HOA or condo board. There may also be other people present, including the community’s management agent and attorney. If you believe that you are not in violation of the governing documents, then the hearing is your chance to dispute the violation. However, the board gets to decide whether or not a violation exists, and if it decides there is a violation, and that the violation has continued even though you got a notice to fix it, the board may fine you.  The board usually gets to decide the amount of the fine. Fines usually get collected in the same way as assessments.  It may be possible for the HOA or condo to sue you for unpaid fines and to place a lien against your property for unpaid fines.

By law, hearings held within a condo may be appealed to in court.

Read the Law: MD Code, Real Property, Section 11-113(link is external)MD Code, Real Property, Section 14-201(link is external) through 14-206(link is external) (Maryland Contract Lien Act)

Injunctive Relief

An HOA or condo can also ask the circuit court in your county to order you to stop a violation or fix a violation.  They do not have to go through the full hearing process first, but to take you to court, they must act before the legal time limit (called the “statute of limitations”) expires.

The court may order you not to violate the governing documents or may order you to take some action, like removing an unapproved structure or alteration from the exterior of your home.

Usually the court will not award money damages for a covenant violation since the HOA is usually not financially harmed. But if the HOA or condo states that your actions cost them money, it is possible that you would be ordered to pay.

Read the Law: MD Code, Real Property, Section 11-113(link is external)

Attorneys’ Fees and Costs

Condos:  If you are sued by your condo and a court rules against you, the court may order you to pay the attorneys’ fees and costs for the other party, the condo. The condo must prove to the court that the attorneys’ fees and costs they are asking for are reasonable. The court will decide what fees and costs are reasonable, based on a list of factors.

HOAs:  An HOA may also be able to ask the court to make you pay their attorneys’ fees and costs if they win.  Again, the fees and costs must be reasonable, and the court decides what is reasonable. However, not all HOA governing documents allow the HOA to make you pay their court costs and attorneys’ fees, even if you lose in court.

And the compensation sometimes works both ways.  If the rules say that the “prevailing party” is entitled to be compensated by the other party, and you win, then you are entitled to ask for those expenses.

Some HOAs and condos even have governing documents that permit the community to assess the violating owner the attorneys’ fees and costs incurred by it to enforce a covenant even if a suit is not filed. This right depends on the language of the governing documents.

Read the Law: MD Code, Real Property, Section 11-113(link is external)MD Rules 19-301.5(link is external) (about Attorney Fees)

Source:

P. Hong Le, Esq., Law Office of P. Hong Le, LLC

2017 Maryland Condo and HOA Legislation–The Final Score

During the 2017 Maryland legislative session, the General Assembly considered many bills regarding condominium and homeowner association governance, foreclosure procedures, state registration of community associations, and regulation of community association managers.

Legislation passed includes bills to make it easier to amend condo bylaws and an HOA declaration; require lender notice of foreclosure sale postponement and cancellation; and require community associations to provide owner notice of common property sales, including government tax sales.

Governing Document Amendments.  The vote required to amend bylaws of a condominium, and the declaration or bylaws of an HOA, was reduced to 60 percent of the total votes, or a lower percentage if allowed by the document amended.  Only members “in good standing” may vote.  Owners are in “good standing” if the association assessments or other charge are not more than 90 days past due.

Lender Foreclosure Sales.  When a lender postpones or cancels a foreclosure sale, notice will now have to be sent to a condominium or homeowners association which has recorded an assessment lien at least 30 days before the foreclosure sale date.   This additional notice is intended to help associations better monitor the status of foreclosures and assist in collecting delinquent assessments when a sale is delayed or canceled.

Notice of postponement or cancelation must also be provided to the property owner so the owner will know of the continuing obligation to pay association assessments.

Separately, legislation was passed to requite a lender to notify the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation of a pending foreclosure within seven days after a court foreclosure action is filed.  This is in addition to the post-sale notice which the foreclosure purchaser is required to provide to DLLR.

Sale of Common Area.   A new requirement for a condo or HOA to notify owners of sale of the association common property was enacted.  Notice can be provided by sending to each owner, or posting a sign on the property and including on any association website.

As introduced, the bill was intended to help associations by requiring better County notice of tax sales of association common area because the association may not know of a scheduled sale for non-payment of real property taxes or other government fees.  After amendment of the bill, no additional County notice is required.

HOA Resale Inspection Fee.  A bill to allow a fee of up to $100 for inspecting a home in connection with issuance of a resale certificate was amended before being passed to allow an inspection fee of up to $50 only if the fee is authorized by the HOA governing documents.

These new laws take effect on October 1.  Legislation considered but not passed in 2017 include bills to:

Require State registration of all condos, homeowner associations, and co-ops which are not already registered with a County;

Require State licensing of community association managers who would have to take specified training and pass a test showing proficiency in community association management; and

Require all condos and HOAs to obtain a replacement reserve study every five years.

Legislation to prohibit provisions in condominium governing documents which limit enforcement of developerconstruction warranties was passed by the House but died in the Senate committee.

Other bills killed by legislative committee would have invalidatedassociation restrictions on electric vehicle charging stations and backyard gardens.  Legislation to allow condo and HOA rules to bantobacco smoking in an owner’s condo or townhome was voted down in committee.

Posted by Thomas Schild Law Group, LLCattorneys for condominiums, homeowner associations and housing cooperatives in Maryland–including Montgomery County, Prince George’s County, Howard County, Frederick County, and Baltimore County; and in Baltimore City and  Washington, D.C.

 

Open records and meetings law related to homeowners associations,  associations of time share estate owners, and condominium councils of unit owners

Homeowners associations

Annotated Code of Maryland, Real Property Article:
§11B-111 Meetings
§11B-112 Books and Records of Homeowners Associations; Disclosures to be Deposited Into Depository
§11B-113 Homeowners Association Depository

Association of time share estate owners

Annotated Code of Maryland, Real Property Article:
§11A-128 Books and Records; Meetings

Condominium council of unit owners

Annotated Code of Maryland, Real Property Article:
§11-109 Council of Unit Owners
§11-109.1 Closed Meetings of Board of Directors
§11-116 Books and Records to be Kept; Audit; Inspection of Records

 

Mortgage Foreclosure

Mortgage foreclosure is a complex process. Some people may approach you about “saving” your home. You should be careful about any such promises. The state encourages you to become informed about your options in foreclosure before entering into any agreements with anyone in connection with the foreclosure of your home. There are government agencies and nonprofit organizations that you may contact for helpful information about the foreclosure process. Call the Hotline of the Mediation Unit of the Consumer Protection Division for assistance at 1-888-743-0023.

Useful links for information about foreclosure prevention and the rights of tenants:

 

File a Consumer Complaint with the Office of the Attorney General

Consumer Protection Division
Consumer hotline: (410) 528-8662
Mon-Fri 9 am-3 pm
Attorney General’s Main Switchboard, Toll-free 1-888-743-0023
hands typing on keyboard

If you are a Maryland consumer and have a dispute with a business, or if you live in another state and your dispute involves a transaction that occurred in Maryland, you can file a complaint with the Consumer Protection Division. Through mediation, we will work with you and the business in an effort to reach a mutually agreed-upon resolution to the dispute.

Does your complaint relate to a health care or medical billing dispute? If so, click here to file a health care complaint.

Please note that this office cannot mediate complaints filed by one business against another business.

This page tells you how to file a complaint online. If you would prefer to file your complaint by mail, click here for instructions for using our printed complaint forms.

Note: Complaints submitted to our office become matters of public record. Under state law, public records are subject to public information disclosure requests. However, all or part of the complaint may remain confidential as required or permitted by Maryland’s public records law. For example, confidential financial information, and medical or psychological information about an individual will not be disclosed to the public.

Instructions to File a Complaint Online

1. Gather any documents that are relevant to your complaint, such as receipts, contracts, leases, repair orders or sales agreements. You may need to refer to these documents while you are filling out the complaint form and will need to send copies of these documents to our office after you file your complaint (see Step 5)

2. Choose the complaint form from the column at the left that best suits your complaint and complete the form online.

3. When you have completed the form, review the information you have entered for accuracy and then click on the “Submit” button. Your complaint will be sent to our office and you will immediately receive a “Complaint Confirmation” on your screen which contains the information you provided along with other important information about how we will handle your complaint. You will not receive an email confirmation.

4. Print the “Complaint Confirmation” page to keep for your records.

5. If you have documents that are relevant to your complaint, mail a copy of those documents along with a copy of the “Complaint Confirmation” page to our office. The address is listed at the bottom of the confirmation page. Please do not send original documents. Unfortunately, we cannot accept electronic attachments, including scanned documents, at this time.

When we receive a copy of your documents and confirmation page we will proceed with processing your complaint. Read the links below for more information about what to expect once we receive your request.

What happens once you file a complaint?

How long will it take to resolve your complaint?

What happens if mediation doesn’t resolve your complaint?