RD574 - Office of the Common Interest Community Ombudsman - Annual Report 2019-2020

Executive Summary:

*This report was replaced in its entirety by the Department of Professional and Occupational Regulation on December 7, 2020.

In 2008, the General Assembly created the Office of the Common Interest Community Ombudsman (“Office"), and the Common Interest Community Board (“CICB"), at the Department of Professional and Occupational Regulation (“DPOR"). In accordance with statutory requirements, this document reports on the activities of the Office for the period from November 27, 2019, through November 26, 2020.

This was a year like no other, not just for the Office and for Virginia, but for everyone in the world. Our office continued to operate as normally as possible given the unprecedented challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic. We continued to receive complaints, Notices of Final Adverse Decision, and many calls and emails. There were, of course, many inquiries related to holding meetings safely; this has since been addressed by language amendments to the Appropriations Act that allow for fully virtual common interest community board meetings.

As in the past, the Office continued to work closely with Associations adopting complaint procedures or learning how to carry out the complaint process under the Common Interest Community Ombudsman Regulations (“Regulations"). The Office reviewed draft complaint procedures and advised associations on changes needed to comply with the Regulations. In most cases, smaller associations that did not have legal counsel and did not understand the complaint process required more time and assistance.

Associations continue to struggle to carry out the three necessary components of the internal complaint procedure: acknowledge receipt of complaint; provide consideration of the complaint; and provide a final decision on the complaint. Even after the Office advises an association of the proper steps necessary, the same association will often continue to ignore the required steps the next time it receives a complaint. This results in ongoing monitoring by this Office as we work toward ensuring that everyone who submits a valid association complaint not only can trust their complaint will be addressed properly, but also will be able to use their right to “appeal" the decision to this Office by filing a Notice of Final Adverse Decision.

The Office referred no complaints to investigations or enforcement this past year, because we were able to obtain compliance on every complaint or Notice of Final Adverse Decision received. Although many association members and owners would prefer their association receive punishment when it fails to adhere to common interest community law, the process of coming into compliance has a longer lasting and positive impact on associations. Punitive measures would also be very likely to deter any future board members from serving, since a lack of compliance is most often due to a lack of knowledge or a simple mistake.

A variety of new issues arose this year due to recently enacted legislation. For example, the Office received inquiries related to solar panels; however, the applicable statutes are not common interest community law, but instead fall under the Virginia Energy Plan (Title 67), leaving us unable to provide much guidance. Questions about electric vehicle charging stations are increasing, as associations appear unaware that new legislation provides for these charging stations and they are challenging owners who wish to install them.

Finally, an amendment to the statute governing disclosure packets required associations to include a statement setting forth any restrictions on political signs. While this seemed a simple change, its execution proved far more difficult than anticipated, perhaps given the overall political climate leading associations to jump to inaccurate conclusions the moment they saw the words “political signs." The Office received many inquiries from board members who were under the impression the law now required their associations adopt new rules or regulations to address political signs.