Q&A: Can a Board Fine for a Free Service?

Q. I own a condo. My building has charged me a fee of $300 and I don't think it is fair. A friend visited me in my apartment a month ago. She was cooking a meal and inadvertently left one of the burners slightly on without a flame. A neighbor of mine has a gas detector so she called the gas company. It took them a few minutes to determine that some gas was coming out from one of my burners. 

I called the gas company and found that their inspection visit was free. Yet my building charged me $300, which I think is very unfair and fraudulent. Is it possible for me to file a complaint and get my money back?  

                                         — Upset Owner

A. “Your association has the right to make and enforce certain rules, including through issuing fines,” says Christopher Malloy, a principal at the law firm of Moriarty Troyer & Malloy LLC in Boston. “Those rules and a fine schedule should be in your governing documents (Master Deed, Bylaws and/or Rules and Regulations). Check your condominium documents to see whether the conduct is prohibited specifically or perhaps more generally (to ensure the safety and well-being of other unit owners and the common areas), and whether the $300 fine is consistent with the schedule.  

“Your association governing documents may require a written notice prior to issuing a fine or may allow for an appeal of a fine. Even if your documents do not have a specific right for a violation notice or appeal process, you could always write to the board and ask that it waive or reduce the fine as the gas company did not assess any fee to the association and, if true, that this is the first such incident.  

“Please know, though, that it may be the case that the management company had to respond to the gas incident and deploy resources (even if the gas company did not charge for the visit).  Those management company fees could be outside the management contract and billable to the association and, through the governing documents, chargeable to the unit owner so that the board may need and be able to recoup those costs.”

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