Suspension of Community Privileges: District of Columbia
A community association's ability to suspend an owner's voting privileges and community privileges, such as parking, pool, and/or fitness center access, is a powerful tool associations can use in getting the attention of owners who are in violation of association governing documents. This tool is typically used when an owner is delinquent in paying his or her assessments and can serve as a deterrent for non-payment as well as an effective means of assessment collection. It is important to note, however, that before an association can proceed with suspending an owner's voting and/or community privileges, it must carefully review its Declaration, Bylaws, and applicable statutory codes in order to determine whether it has the requisite authority to suspend such privileges, and if so, what procedures must be followed.
Community associations in the District of Columbia have similar options available to them with respect to suspending an owner's privileges as those in Maryland. Ideally, an association's governing documents will contain specific provisions authorizing the board of directors to suspend certain privileges if the governing documents are violated. In the hierarchy of community documents, it is always preferable to have the Declaration and/or Bylaws speak on this issue. However, if language of this nature is not present, both condominium and homeowners associations in the District can adopt rules and regulations authorizing the suspension of certain privileges.
The District of Columbia Condominium Act does not contain the same level of due process requirements as either the Maryland or Virginia Condominium Acts. However, condominium associations should be mindful that Section 42-1903.08(11) of the Act does provide that an association has the power to levy a reasonable fine for violation of the governing documents only after notice and an opportunity to be heard. While this provision does not speak directly on the issue of suspension of privileges, it does seem that the intent of the Act is to impose some form of due process on condominium associations prior to the imposition of a sanction. For that reason, we find it advisable for condominium and homeowners associations in the District to adopt and maintain enforcement policies that specifically set forth the potential for suspension of an owner's privileges in the event of a violation of the governing documents.
Collections policies may also be amended to include provisions regarding the suspension of privileges in the case of a unit owner delinquency. Any policies that are adopted by a board should be regularly disseminated to the membership so that owners are aware of the potential sanctions they face in the event of a violation and/or delinquency.
An interesting point to note is that the District of Columbia Condominium Act will be officially amended within the coming months. As part of the amendments, the Act incorporated a new section defining a “unit owner in good standing.” This section provides that
Unless otherwise defined in the condominium instruments, unit owner in good standing shall mean a unit owner who is not delinquent for more than 30 days in the payment of any amount owed to the unit owners' association, or a unit owner who has not been found by the unit owners' association or its executive board to be in violation of the condominium instruments or the rules of the unit owners' association.
This Section serves as a default provision in the event the governing documents of an association do not have a definition for what an owner 'in good standing' is. For the purposes of our discussion regarding suspension of privileges, associations should take care to classify an owner as an 'owner not in good standing' prior to taking any enforcement action, including the suspension of privileges, in the future.