What are homeowners rights against HOA? All members of an HOA community, board member or not, should know about the different rights homeowners have. This way, you can prevent potential conflict from arising.
The Most Important Homeowners Rights Against HOA
Moving into a community governed by a homeowners association requires a familiarity with the things you can and can’t do as a homeowner. You will typically find this information within the association’s governing documents. But, you also need to know what your HOA can’t do. Some homeowners blindly follow HOA rules, not knowing that some of these rules are already in breach of the law.
Here are some of the most critical things your HOA can’t do.
1. Discriminate Against Homeowners
No homeowners association can discriminate against its members or potential members.
According to the Fair Housing Act, HOAs can’t discriminate against homeowners based on their race, color, familial status, national origin, sex, disability, and/or religion. Discriminative actions encompass a broad range of things, including but not limited to:
- Preventing buyers from purchasing a house in the community;
- Making it hard for buyers to purchase a house in the community;
- Fining homeowners;
- Denying homeowners’ requests; and/or
- Evicting homeowners because they belong to one of the protected classes.
Of course, that is not to say HOAs can’t do any of the above actions when they have grounds to do so. For instance, an HOA may deny a homeowner’s architectural change request if it does not comply with the architectural guidelines. But, it can’t deny the request because they disagree with the homeowner’s religious beliefs or race.
Apart from the federal Fair Housing Act, some states have also enacted their own Fair Housing laws. In California, for example, the list of protected classes is more comprehensive, including gender identity, medical condition, and genetic information, to name a few.
2. Make New Rules on Impulse
Rules are essential in an HOA community, but that does not mean HOA boards can just make new rules in the heat of the moment. The president can’t just decide he dislikes the color blue and then bans homeowners from painting their homes that color.
Every decision the HOA makes must be for the community and its interests. The association must also follow proper procedure — as laid out within the governing documents — when creating or amending its rules.
While the process can vary depending on the HOA, most rule changes need to go through a discussion and a vote. The HOA board must consider feedback from homeowners as well. The vote will typically come from the board (for simple changes to operating rules) or the entire membership (for amendments to the bylaws or CC&Rs). Additionally, the board must provide members with adequate notice of the rule change.
3. Impose Arbitrary Fines
Can a homeowners association fine you? Yes, an HOA can generally fine its members, provided state laws and governing documents give the HOA power to do so.
If your association’s CC&Rs say the HOA can fine members for violating a specific covenant, then don’t be surprised when you receive a notice in the mail after committing that violation. But, if your HOA’s governing documents say the association can’t fine homeowners, then you should definitely challenge the HOA’s authority when you get slapped with a fine.
Furthermore, the fines must be reasonable and justified. For instance, it would be outrageous for an HOA to impose a $1,000 fine for a simple trash bin placement violation on the first offense.
Most HOAs allow homeowners to appeal fines. This usually means you have to go through a standard appeals process, the specifics of which can vary from association to association. Generally, though, you will need to present evidence to back up your claim.
4. Restrict Complaints
There are many things your HOA may do that you might not agree with. And, as a homeowner, you should have the ability to voice your opinions. Homeowners associations can’t force you to stay silent if you have an issue you wish to talk about.
If you have a problem you want the HOA to discuss, bring it to the board’s attention by filing a formal complaint. You can also attend open board meetings as many HOAs allocate a portion of these meetings for open forums.
5. Prevent Homeowners to Sue
Homeowners can sue their association as it is well within their rights to do so. Usually, when a homeowner files a lawsuit against the HOA, it is for breaching its fiduciary duties. But, you can also sue your HOA for a number of other possible reasons.
A lot of HOAs require members to go through an internal process for conflict resolution prior to initiating litigation. Homeowners can request hearings before the HOA board or go through mediation/arbitration with the HOA to reach a compromise. But, if the issue remains unresolved, you do have the option to sue your HOA.
6. Hold HOA Meetings Without Notice
Many associations are required by the laws in their state or their governing documents to provide adequate notice before holding any meetings. This even extends to sudden meetings the board must hold at the last minute. The notice period can change depending on the association, so it is important to check your bylaws to know the exact amount of notice required.
Basically, if there will be a board meeting, homeowners should know about it. This means HOA boards can’t hold meetings in secret or conduct what are called “working meetings.” A working meeting is when board members meet outside of an official board meeting to discuss and vote on association business.
7. Forbid Satellite Dishes
Homeowners associations are all about regulating the appearance of the neighborhood with the goal of maintaining property values. In fact, this is why HOAs have architectural guidelines in place. These guidelines can vary, but they usually have to do with restricting certain additions, improvements, and alterations to the exterior of your property.
One of the things HOAs can’t prohibit, though, is the installation of satellite dishes or antennas as it goes directly against the FCC’s OTARD Rule. This rule protects homeowners rights against HOA when it comes to attaching these kinds of reception devices. Although HOAs can’t outright ban these devices, they can regulate other things such as their size and placement.
8. Prohibit Solar Drying
One of the homeowners rights against homeowners associations is the right to dry clothes on a clothesline. Again, the idea of restricting solar drying comes down to maintaining aesthetics and property values. But, several states have already enacted laws protecting homeowners’ right to dry. As such, if your HOA says you can’t hang your clothes out to dry on a clothesline, the first thing you must do is check whether you live in one of the “Right to Dry” states.
9. Ban Native Plants
Can HOA impose backyard rules? In a word, yes, provided your governing documents permit your association to impose HOA backyard rules.
But, there are some states that protect your ability to grow plants native to your area. In California and Texas, for instance, you can challenge your HOA rules for plants if it forbids you from growing native plants. Similarly, in Florida, associations can’t restrict plants just because they don’t match the community’s design.
HOA Not Doing Its Job? Here’s What Homeowners Can Do
Homeowners associations have certain obligations to their communities. Not all HOAs have the same obligations, so you should check your governing documents to see what specific responsibilities your HOA has. For most HOAs, though, these obligations include maintaining the common areas of the neighborhood, enforcing rules, and upholding their fiduciary duties.
But, what happens when your HOA stops doing its job? How do you fight a homeowners association then?
If you find that your HOA is not doing its job properly, then you have a number of options. First, you can approach the board with your concerns. Let the board know that the HOA is failing. Then, listen to what the board has to say. There may be a good reason as to why the HOA isn’t maintaining the common areas or enforcing the rules.
Sometimes, the problem lies with a single incompetent board member. In that case, you can check your governing documents to learn the procedure for removing an HOA board member.
Lastly, if the problem persists, you can take legal action against the HOA. This usually happens when the HOA violates its fiduciary duties like the HOA not enforcing rules equally. When this happens, you can sue HOA for selective enforcement. Of course, this will require you to present evidence supporting your claim, which is typically hard to prove. Moreover, if you lose, you might end up paying for the HOA’s legal costs in addition to yours.
Legal Protection for All
While living in an HOA community does have its perks, some rules can be hard to follow or downright unreasonable. Knowing your homeowners rights against HOA is the first step to protecting yourself from abusive or illegal HOA rules. Likewise, HOA board members must know of these rights to prevent conflict and safeguard the association from potential liability.
Understanding rights and obligations can come as a challenge. Make that part of HOA management easier with the help of Cedar Management Group. Call us today at (877) 252-3327 or contact us online to learn more about our services!
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