OK, your HOA’s changing some rules. But the gall of some owners! They want to be exempt from your new rules, or “grandfathered in.” Should you grant their request?
Here, we discuss the pros and cons of creating exceptions for rules, give four examples of when it’s smart and not smart to grandfather residents in, and provide tips to ensure the grandfathered rules don’t last forever and are enforceable.
When to Grandfather? It Depends
“I think it’s a great question,” says David Mercer, a partner at MercerTrigiani in Alexandria, Va., who represents more than 500 associations in Virginia and Washington, D.C. “The answer depends on the specifics of what you’re trying to accomplish. It depends on how serious the problem you’re addressing is and how difficult it’s going to be for residents to change their behavior to comply. Each factual situation you confront brings different issues to the grandfathering clause.”
Robert Galvin, a partner at Davis, Malm & D’Agostine PC in Boston who specializes in representing condos and co-ops, has one absolute. “Never grandfather specific units or people,” he says. “Also, grandfathering isn’t something you do very broadly. Usually, if a rule is a good idea, nobody should be grandfathered. But there are instances where it’s appropriate.”
Here are a few examples:
1. Rental Restrictions
A change of use is a good barometer of when to grandfather, says Kristen L. Rosenbeck, a partner at the Mulcahy Law Firm PC in Phoenix, which represents associations. “I typically want to recommend grandfathering if we’re changing a use,” she says. “Let’s say it’s a rental restriction. That’s a large issue and a change in use. So let’s grandfather owners already renting out their unit and make the rule apply to future owners from this point forward. Some clients want to have the rule take effect when current renters leave. We have case law that says that’s sufficient. But because that change is controversial, I’d recommend clients say the rental would continue until ownership changes.”
2. Color Scheme
Rosenbeck doesn’t think the same reasoning applies to a change in a neighborhood’s color scheme. “We can change the scheme, and that’s not tied to ownership,” she says. “So we could grandfather the current scheme and have it be acceptable until you have to paint your house again.”
3. Pet Rules
“Assume your association is a pet community, so when a condo owner bought, he could have pets,” explains Mercer. “He recognized the condo rule could be changed if, say, 66 and two-thirds of his neighbors voted to change it. Now they’ve voted to change into a no-pet community. The board should want voluntary compliance, but it’s very unrealistic to expect people with pets to move or get rid of their pets to be in compliance. But it’s reasonable to expect that if you grandfather pets in and say, ‘For starters, you need to register your pets. Only those pets will be allowed to stay, and they can’t be replaced when they die.’ Now you’re working toward total, voluntary compliance in several years without the disruption, adversarial approach, and disenfranchisement of people.”
4. Smoking Bans
“There should be no grandfathering when there are safety concerns,” says Rosenbeck. Example? “If you take a health issue like smoking, and you want to ban smoking in the entire property, that gets a little more traction if you say, ‘Except in your unit, we’re banning smoking in all areas,'” adds Mercer. “Still, you might want to consider an area in the common elements that would be restricted as a smoking area rather than going cold turkey on all areas.”
“Every time I’ve been involved in a change that alters the fiber of a community, the association has provided grandfathering,” says Mercer. “It’s difficult enough to get an amendment that you risk it not being passed without grandfathering. The analogy I make is that of a local government authority that wants to change zoning and prohibit a light industrial use in a particular zone. The government can’t just say to someone, ‘And by the way you can’t run your business anymore. But it can say, ‘You can’t sell or change your business use, and once you end the business, it’s done.'”