The Pyramid of Laws that Govern All Community Associations

A pyramid of laws govern all associations. It is important for board members to realize that this pyramid and its hierarchy exists.

At the base of the pyramid, with the widest application, is the United States Constitution. A board member must be aware that the United States Constitution applies to the association and its operations. As an example, the United States Constitution states that persons cannot be deprived of their property without due process, which means a notice and a hearing. Some associations have administrative penalty assessment procedures (fining) in their rules. These procedures must mandate a hearing before a penalty may be assessed. The necessity for the hearing is a result of the due process clause of the United States Constitution.

Next on the pyramid are the many Federal laws. For example, Federal tax laws apply to all associations. In addition, fair housing laws apply. These laws prohibit discrimination against children and the handicapped. With a few limited exceptions, an association may no longer be "all adult" and signage such as "Children Prohibited From Playing" have had to be removed.

State law is next on the pyramid. Ohio's law pertaining to condominiums is Revised Code Chapter 5311. Ohio condominium law is basic and mainly outlines what developers must do. It is hoped that in the future Ohio law will become more detailed in defining what the associations may and may not do.

Outside of the condominium statute, Ohio has other laws that apply to associations. For example, Ohio also has a law pertaining to towing vehicles from private property that dictates the language of the sign that must be at the entrance to the property before a car may be towed.

Next on the pyramid are Municipal laws. Note that the Municipal laws are narrower on the pyramid because they are narrower in their applicability. Municipal laws only apply in the particular municipality in which the association is located. They vary from municipality to municipality. As an example, the City of Westlake has an ordinance that prohibits grilling on balconies. Many cities also have pet ordinances. These ordinances often mandate that dogs must be on leashes. A board can make use of municipal laws by enlisting the help of the police or building department to remedy a problem on the property.

Above the Municipal laws, and that which has the narrowest application in that it only applies to a particular association, are the Declaration and Bylaws. These documents establish the authority of the association. The Declaration declares the restrictions on the property. The Bylaws define the internal operations and procedures of the association. Do not think that these documents are written in stone. They can be amended by a vote of the association. There are numerous types of amendments currently being recorded. Some associations are completely rewriting their governing documents. Others are amending provisions relating to such topics as leasing, pets, and collections. If your documents are deficient, do not hesitate to amend them.

The top item on the pyramid is board promulgated rules. Every association should have a clear, concise rule booklet. It is imperative that board members realize that board rules cannot contradict the Declaration and Bylaws. If the Declaration states that a unit owner cannot have more than one dog, a board cannot pass a rule that says "No Dogs". The principle is the same as that which does not allow Municipal law to contradict the State law and the State law to contradict the Federal law.

It is important that all board members be informed. Prior to acting, it may be wise to review the pyramid of laws to determine if the act falls within a category and to insure that the board is in compliance with the applicable law.