Residential Real Estate Law

Homeowners Associations (HOAs)

A homeowners association (HOA) is like a small government for a condominium building or subdivision of homes. It has an elected board of directors who create and enforce rules for the homeowners who live there.

HOA boards also handle upkeep for common areas like hallways, the roof, stairways, swimming pool, etc. Property owners pay HOA dues, typically a monthly fee, to keep these community associations funded and pay for common area expenses, building insurance, and general maintenance. They can also be the source of endless fighting.

If you need legal advice about your HOA rules or you’re otherwise involved in an HOA dispute, talk to an experienced attorney who practices homeowners association law.

Bylaws and Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions

HOA residents have rules and regulations they must abide by. These rules cannot conflict with local, state, and federal laws. They generally fall into two categories:

  1. HOA bylaws
  2. The declaration of covenants, conditions, and restrictions (CC&Rs)

HOA bylaws govern the HOA’s internal rules for:

  • Electing board members
  • Setting times and places for meetings
  • Voting rules and HOA board member responsibilities

CC&Rs are the community rules that the HOA must enforce against all homeowners. CC&Rs refer to:

  • Agreements or promises by property owners to participate in a specific dispute resolution processes, to pay assessments and dues obligations, and to honor penalties for violations
  • Conditions on the use of property and common areas, such as landscaping and maintenance requirements for front lawns and building structures
  • Restrictions on activity relating to real estate, such as prohibitions on commercial/business activity, noise level, trash disposal, and pool/yard hours

Generally, the rules and regulations are intended to promote safety, cleanliness, and fairness in the housing complex. Proponents argue that this protects high home values.

Homeowners displeased with their HOA board or CC&Rs can elect board members who will vote on amendments (changes) to the rules, like a rule that creates more flexibility in exterior housing appearances or a rule that regulates noise and visitation hours.

Common HOA Disputes

The Ten Commandments provide pretty good examples of common HOA disputes: They remind us not to “bear false witness” against our neighbors and not to “covet” our neighbor’s homes or their families. This is not to say that HOA disputes are about jealousy, but they definitely involve neighbors fighting with each other over things like:

  • Noise from upstairs or adjoining walls
  • Package theft or misdelivered mail
  • Poor home maintenance or obnoxious decorations
  • Annoying guests, tenants, or Airbnb traffic

Property owners can file their grievances with the HOA board, which will decide how to respond. For example, if a neighbor in a 30-unit complex is vacuuming their home at 3 a.m., and the CC&Rs require noise to be kept to a minimum during sleeping hours, what can the HOA do? They’ll most likely:

  1. Conduct an investigation to see if a violation is actually occurring
  2. Issue a warning letter to the culprit to stop
  3. Impose a penalty against that neighbor’s unit if they do not stop
  4. Place a lien on the offender’s home if they refuse to pay

Not every HOA dispute requires a CC&Rs violation. Sometimes it’s a jealous neighbor wrongfully complaining to the HOA about you to give you a hard time.

Also, not every CC&R violation is legally enforceable. For example, many buildings in America still have restrictions on the sale of property to racial minorities. This runs afoul of countless federal, state, and local anti-discrimination laws and court rulings and is unenforceable.

If an HOA is bullying you or trying to enforce a rule that breaks the law, it’s probably a good idea to lawyer up and sue them.

Can You Lose Your Home in an HOA Dispute?

It’s rare to lose your property even violate HOA rules. You’ll get fined, and your neighbors will hate you, but being a noisy and annoying property owner is probably not enough to get the boot.

There are all sorts of reasons you might lose your home, such as failing to pay your mortgage or breaking the law.

But when it comes to HOAs, the surest way to lose your home is by failing to pay your dues. Some delinquency is excusable. You’ll be forgiven the first time, and you might get by with a small late fee the second and third times.

But if you owe thousands of dollars, the HOA will file a lien against your property. If it’s substantial enough, that lien can be enough justification to put your home into foreclosure.

If this happens to you, don’t panic. An HOA lien may have been filed improperly, or you may have bankruptcy protections if you have good cause for being unable to pay. Whatever the case, you have legal rights even if you’re in the wrong.

A Lawyer Can Be Helpful

An HOA lawyer can ensure that your HOA isn’t singling you out through selective enforcement of rules or other kinds of discrimination. Attorneys with experience in HOA disputes can take legal action against boards that have illegal HOA CC&Rs.

If you’re involved in a homeowners association dispute, get legal services from an experienced HOA lawyer to make sure your legal rights are not violated.

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