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How to Deal With Homeowners Association Problems

By John Miceli

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In theory, the concept of a homeowners association was designed to help a community and its residents govern themselves. After all, who better to make the rules about your neighborhood than people who actually live in your neighborhood?

Unfortunately, it doesn’t always play out so easily. Whether you’ve heard of HOA horror stories or are experiencing one yourself, it isn’t unusual for board drama or a “condo commando” to make life difficult for residents. Let’s take a look at what kinds of HOA problems can arise and how they affect you.

8 Typical HOA Rules to Follow

Every HOA has a set of rules that homeowners have to abide by. They can take many names, such as the articles of incorporation, the governing documents, or the covenant, conditions, and restrictions (CCR). But, they all essentially mean the same thing: a set of regulations and prohibitions that apply to residents to keep the neighborhood orderly and operational for all.

You should be given a set of these rules before you move into a community with an HOA, and you have to agree to them to gain residence. They can range from cosmetic home restrictions to pet ownership to amenity use. Here are some examples of typical HOA rules:

  1. Restrictions on pet ownership, like what kind of pet and how many you can own
  2. Regulations on what color you can paint the exterior of your residence or front door
  3. Regulations on yard fence height
  4. Rules on what kind of vehicles and how many you can park in your driveway
  5. Rules on what items can be put in shared dumpsters or recycling bins
  6. Landscaping restrictions, like grass height or prohibited types of foliage
  7. Rules regarding renting your residence to someone else
  8. Rules on who can use the amenities and when

What Happens When HOA Is Not Enforcing Rules Equally

The rules are supposed to apply to everyone equally. If broken, an HOA can force residents to comply by fining them or, worse, taking legal action. If you feel the association is treating you unfairly by singling you out, there’s some recourse you can take.

The first thing you should do is consult the rules and regulations. If you’re in violation of a rule, it could shed some light on how or why. If you’re being accused of breaking a rule that isn’t outlined in the governing articles, you now have some evidence on your side.

Keep in mind, though, that regulations can change from when you first moved in. This is usually explicitly mentioned in the articles, and the board may not have to give you prior notice.

If you feel your HOA is arbitrarily enforcing rules or singling you out, meaning you’re being punished for something you’ve seen others do with no consequence, inform the HOA how you feel. You should outline clearly and respectfully how you think the board is making a mistake.

It may be required that you contact the board with a grievance in writing by letter, per your governing articles. Plus, it’s always smart to have what you’re saying in writing. This is a great way to start a dialogue and could lead to a solution, such as an amendment to a rule.

If possible, you could also attend the next HOA meeting with your question. The board should notify residents when HOA meetings occur, and this could be a good opportunity to gain further understanding of the rules from those who enforce them.

If you’re really passionate and want to make a change at the board level, you could become involved. Getting on the board or finding out how to remove an HOA board member could help your situation.

If worst comes to worst, you may be able to take your HOA to court. Some states, like Arizona, have selective enforcement laws that prevent unjust HOA treatment. A lawsuit would be expensive and stressful, though.

Unenforceable HOA Rules 

In addition to specific selective enforcement laws, there are some actions that all HOAs simply cannot take legally. Any action that violates the Fair Housing Act, which bans blatant discrimination based on race, religion, or disability isn’t allowed.

For example, it was ruled last year in Nevada that an HOA violated the Fair Housing Act when it prohibited a service dog in the community clubhouse. However, lawsuits against HOAs are very case-specific and should be a last resort.

What Can Make HOA Fees Too High?

An extra cost of living in a community with a homeowners association is the HOA dues. The fees are usually collected monthly or annually, and contribute toward the upkeep of the community. These may cover landscaping, or care of common areas and amenities like a pool or tennis court.

A breakdown of your HOA dues should be available to you, but it can still be confusing to determine what goes into it. While HOA fees average between $200 and $400 per month, they vary greatly depending on the location, size of community, amenities offered, and more. Generally, more amenities means higher fees. 

Another important thing to consider is how your HOA responds to unexpected repairs or maintenance. Some associations keep a pool of reserve funds on hand, which could cause higher fees.

Having no reserves, though, means lower dues but the possibility of homeowners being charged with an added assessment to cover surprise expenses. If a board passes an assessment, there’s little a resident can do to fight it. 

An additional reason your HOA fees may seem high is because some associations could factor insurance into their dues. Especially if you live in a condominium or townhouse, your HOA could handle some earthquake, flood, and other hazard insurance. If these premiums arise out of the blue, you could be charged an assessment to cover the cost.

Homeowners Rights Against HOA

Whether it’s due to unfair treatment, high fees, or just quarreling with a “condo commando,” fighting an HOA is never fun. If you find yourself in conflict, the rights you have depend, to an extent, on the guidelines you agreed to when you move in.

However, you should always have a right to serve on the HOA board and attend meetings. You also have a right to view financial statements like budgets and disclosures related to the community.

The best way to avoid conflict with an HOA is to keep an open, honest line of communication. Try not to be rude or attack someone personally, as this will lead to further division. Also, as mentioned earlier, attending board meetings and maybe even running for the board is a great way to effect change. 

If you’re going through a conflict with the board, it’s wise to understand the rules and regulations fully, keep a written record of your actions, and consult a lawyer with questions if possible.

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