November 4, 2009
Weak CPI policy could invite ‘stealth inspections’
Commentary by Bob Lassahn
Due to publication schedules I'm probably the last one out of the box with my opinion on this issue, but I think it is important enough to put it out there.
Considerable attention has recently been focused, in particular on OceanPinesForum.com, as to whether Ocean Pines Association's (OPA) Compliance, Permits and Inspections (CPI) personnel, should enter onto a property to search out a violation of OPA's Declaration of Restrictions (DRs), without permission to enter from the homeowner. The OPA board is currently involved in setting policy in this regard.
The mere thought of an inspector roaming freely about their property while looking for infringements causes some homeowners' tempers to flare. It's a perception issue, that the inspectors are invading their space. There are likely others that don't care a hoot.
The DRs are the primary tool used by OPA to ensure properties within the community remain well maintained and present a reasonable appearance. CPI is the department charged to sniff them out. Enforcement is obviously necessary, as has been aptly demonstrated by the condition of some properties.
I believe OPA should be able to adhere to a policy that recognizes an individual's "reasonable expectation of privacy" and still gets the job done. It doesn't sit right with me that an inspector would simply wander onto someone's property unannounced and poke around, even if they might be responding to a complaint regarding a violation from a neighbor. It leaves the door open to surprising an unsuspecting property owner tending petunias in the backyard.
If the violation is not obvious from the public area, I personally see absolutely nothing wrong with the idea of going to the door, discussing the situation with the property owner and requesting permission to enter onto the property. But if entry is denied, leave and if no one is at home, leave. I think resolving a suspected DR violation is doable without adopting policy that might encourage "stealth inspections."
If a policy is established without a statement specifically prohibiting unauthorized/uninvited entry, there remains a perhaps, unstated expectation the inspectors should use the loophole and drop in when they think nobody is home. If a violation is "invisible" to adjacent neighbors or public areas, it likely "does no harm." In short…if someone is suspected of having too many garden gnomes in their backyard and no one can see them without sneaking back there…who cares!
The current board has made significant headway in establishing trust, regaining respect and instilling confidence in their leadership with OPA property owners. In my mind they should avoid getting caught up in a questionable policy that could potentially drive a wedge into the relationship.
A poll regarding entry by CPI is underway at OceanPinesForum.com where those with an interest in the issue can make their opinion on this matterknown.
The exact wording of the proposed CPI entry policy is available on OPA’s website at www.oceanpines.org under the Forms and Documents tab.
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