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What Are Your Rights as a Homeowner in an HOA?

June 22, 2023

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The Most Important Rights For Homeowners To Be Aware Of

If you move into a Homeowners Association, it’s important to understand your rights.  

You don’t want to get taken advantage of and you want to be able to exercise your rights, as needed. 

It isn’t wise to blindly believe in anything your HOA says or does as gospel truth. 

You want to know if they’re violating your rights. 

So, in this article, we’re to go over some key fundamental rights you need to know about as a homeowner in an HOA. 

HOAs cannot discriminate 

According to the Fair Housing Act, HOAs cannot discriminate against homeowners based on race, color, familial status, national origin, disability, sex, and/or religion. Examples of discriminative actions include: 

  • Preventing you from buying a property in the HOA based on the criteria listed above 
  • Fining you because of any of the criteria listed above 
  • Rejecting your requests based on the criteria listed above 
  • Evicting you because you are in one of the protected classes 

There are circumstances where HOAs can take all the actions just mentioned. The key is that they cannot discriminate. However, if you want to decorate your front door a certain way, they may be able to prevent it based on the rules and regulations of that HOA. 

Certain states have additional protected classes that go beyond the Fair Housing Act (I.e., California). Thus, it’s important to do research for the state you live in to understand their specific HOA discrimination laws as well. 

HOAs cannot make arbitrary rule changes 

HOAs cannot enact rules that are nonsensical or contradict community interests. For instance, if the board decides they no longer like green, that doesn’t mean they can prevent members from painting anything that color. Decisions must follow proper procedure per the governing documentation whenever developing or changing rules. 

Most HOAs require voting and at least one discussion before a rule changed can be enacted. The HOA typically must take owners’ thoughts and concerns into account as well. If the change is a simple operating rule amendment, then just the board typically votes on it. However, if the change impacts a bylaw, then it’s usually put to the whole membership for a vote.  

HOAs cannot impose unreasonable fines 

Most HOAs have the power to fine you, unless it directly contradicts state law or the Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions (CC&Rs). That said, the fine must be reasonable and justifiable. For example, HOAs cannot fine you thousands of dollars for misplacing your trash bin. 

Most HOAs let owners appeal fines. Understand the standard appeals process, which usually vary from HOA to HOA. Evidence will be the key. Make sure you have something to substantiate your appeal. 

HOAs cannot silence you 

You have a right to voice your opinions. Your HOA cannot stifle or restrict complaints.  

If you have an issue, bring it to the board’s attention by filing a formal complaint. Additionally, you can attend open board meetings because most HOAs reserve part of these meetings for open discussions. 

HOAs cannot restrict lawsuits 

You have the right to sue your HOA. Typically, whenever a homeowner files a lawsuit against the HOA, it’s because the board didn’t perform its fiduciary duties. That said, you may sue your HOA for other legitimate reasons as well. 

Many HOAs require members to go through an internal conflict resolution process before moving into litigation. Homeowners can request hearings before the HOA board or engage in mediation/arbitration with the HOA to come to a compromise. However, if the problem persists or goes unresolved, suing your HOA may be the only option left. 

HOAs cannot have meetings without notice 

Your HOA must give notice whenever an upcoming meeting is on the calendar.  Most associations are required by state law or their governing documents to give adequate notice before holding any meetings. This usually refers to last-minute meetings as well. The required time for notice varies by HOA, so it’s important to check your bylaws to know what to expect. 

HOA board members cannot hold secret meetings or purposely prevent homeowners from engaging in meetings. Board members cannot meet separate from an official board meeting to discuss and vote on HOA business (unless the reason is directly addressed in the bylaws). An HOA board meeting notice is typically needed for these meetings as well. 

HOAs cannot prohibit satellite dishes 

Maintaining the appearance of the neighborhood to keep property values high is a key goal for every HOA. While these guidelines can vary, they almost always involve limiting specific additions, improvements, and alterations to the exterior of properties. 

That said, HOAs cannot restrict the installation of satellite dishes or antennas because it’s against the law. More specifically, it violates the FCC’s OTARD Rule. This rule protects homeowners’ rights regarding attaching these kinds of reception devices to properties. HOAs can regulate size and placement, but they cannot forbid these devices. 

HOAs cannot restrict access to financial and HOA documentation 

If you’re a member of an HOA, you have every right to request access to documents pertaining to your HOA. Here is a list of the documentation you can request: 

  • Documents provided by the developer, such as community maps, plans, land surveys, and permits 
  • Recorded Declaration of CC&Rs, Articles of Incorporation, bylaws, and any amendments 
  • Rules and Regulations 
  • All board and membership meeting notices and minutes 
  • Complete list of membership that includes the Association’s members’ mailing addresses, units/lot, and telephone numbers 
  • HOA Insurance policies 
  • HOA third-party agreements or contracts 
  • Copies of Judgments, Liens, or any encumbrances recorded against, or on behalf, of the HOA 
  • Recorded instruments related to all properties owned by the HOA 
  • HOA documents related to membership voting, the election of officers, directors, and membership approvals, such as Ballots, Proxies, Notices, Minutes 
  • All rental records of the HOA, if the Association acts as a rental agent 

Additionally, you may also request all HOA accounting records for the past 3 years, including: 

  • Records of receipts and expenditures 
  • Current account ledgers for each member of the HOA, including the member’s name, amount and due date of each annual assessment, payments made to the account, and the current balance due 
  • All HOA financial reports, reviews, and audits 
  • All contracts for work to be performed 
  • Purchase invoices 
  • Other HOA official records that relate to the operation and management of the community 
  • All HOA insurance records 

HOA boards cannot keep these documents away from you. They also must give you access to them promptly (the required timing may vary depending on the HOA and state laws).  

Most states have certain disclosure laws that require HOAs to inform prospective purchasers about implied contractual obligations like payment of maintenance fees, and restrictions limiting the use and occupancy of a property. Furthermore, many states have specific Disclosure Statements and Resale Disclosure Certificates which are issued by the state or real estate associations that summarize the specific information prospective purchasers are entitled to have. 

Conclusion 

It’s important to understand homeowners’ rights in an HOA. You don’t want to get in a bad situation because you weren’t aware of your options. 

Be sure to do your research to understand your specific HOA and state laws, so that you can protect your rights in any situation. 

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