HOAs are often portrayed as villains, and in some cases, they certainly do abuse their power. We hope this is the exception and not the rule, because the is, they do have the power.
HOAs are legal entities that exist to ensure the well-being of a neighborhood. As such, they are given power by the law, homeowners, and, in the case of corporate HOAs, money. However, there is a limit to their power and if your rights as a human being, a citizen, and a homeowner are being unfairly compromised, you have the power to stand up to them.
There are laws handing over a measure of power to HOAs. When you move into an HOA, you sign documents giving them power. Corporate HOAs have money, making any fight with a homeowner unfair. If you are not aware of your rights (CC&Rs), you give HOAs the power to abuse their position.
The Law Gives Power to HOAs
In a way, your HOA is a ‘mini government’. Just like the government, your HOA can implement rules, collect fees, regulate behavior, hold elections, and impose a hefty fine on you for violating the HOAs’ set rules.
One of the reasons why HOAs have so much power is because the law gives them this power. Most state laws give legal powers to HOAs so that they can implement community policies that ensure peace and integrity in a planned development.
The primary function of HOA is to maintain the aesthetic and atmospheric appeal of a property and make sure that the property value does not depreciate. For this, the state gives power to the HOA to have authority on your property and over certain activities.
HOAs are given the power to make rules, but not to use them for any variant of personal gain. Homeowners across several states find themselves in a tight spot because of their HOA. From mishandling of HOA funds to victimizing homeowners, there are some serious allegations against HOAs.
What baffles homeowners everywhere is how HOAs are allowed by the law to have so much power and authority over someone else’s property. “Home” is supposed to be peaceful but for some, their home becomes the cause of so much tension and frustration.
11 Alive phrase it best:
“Right now, state law gives all the power to the HOA board, to interpret covenants in ways that don’t always make sense to homeowners.”
Late Dues Can Lead to Liens and Fines
As a homeowner living in a community regulated by HOA, you owe regular HOA fees that cover maintenance of the development. HOA fees are used to pay for snow removal, security, repairs and maintenance for common facilities, the salary of HOA employees, etc.
Sometimes, for major renovations or improvements, HOAs levy special assessments on homeowners. When HOA fees, special assessments, or violation fines levied are not paid on time, your HOA can place a lien on your house. They can even foreclose on your property!
It is unlikely that they will take this drastic step, but it is good to be informed.
Take a Detour
Can HOA Kick You Out Of Your House
Exact Legal Power Varies
The legal powers of HOA depend on the way the HOA was formed. In upscale developments, HOAs are formed as non-profit organizations and have immense power over the homeowners and the property.
All HOAs are formed as separate legal entities and their power varies. HOAs are given the power to enforce rules related to rentals, guests, structural renovations, choice of paint for the exterior, pets, landscaping, etc.
Examples of Legislation Giving HOAs Power
State legislatures giving power to the HOA varies according to the state.
- In Alabama, the Alabama Homeowners’ Association Act governs the formation, management, powers, and operation of residential homeowners’ associations.
- In California, it is the Davis-Stirling Common Interest Development Act.
- In Pennsylvania, it is Pennsylvania Uniform Condominium Act and Pennsylvania Uniform Planned Community Act.
- In Mississippi, it is Mississippi Condominium Law.
Along with state laws, HOAs are also governed by federal laws like The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 that prohibits discrimination against specially-abled people, The Fair Housing Act (FHA), Over-the-Air Reception Devices Rule (OTARD), etc.
Moving in Gives HOAs Power
A home is a long-term investment that you make after taking lots of factors into consideration. One of them is the future value of your property. Purchasing a home in an HOA community is a way of ensuring that the price of your property will increase.
Along with this benefit, buying a home in an HOA-ruled property inevitably means becoming a member of the HOA. When you move in you sign a legally binding contract saying that you will adhere to all the Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions (CC&Rs).
Whether you like it or not, after moving in you are legally committed to the responsibilities given to the homeowners by the HOA. Different HOAs have different rules. But most HOAs have a common set of covenants and rules about things like occupancy limits, renting, parking, holiday decorations, etc.
As a resident of the HOA, you will have to abide by the HOA laws unless you want to be fined. In a way, when you move in, you give HOA the power to enforce rules that you are expected to follow.
Corporate HOAs Have Money on Their Side
An HOA is formed as a separate legal entity and is governed by state statutes that apply to non-profit organizations. But if your HOA is a corporation, then by default, they have more power.
When an HOA is professionally managed, it ends up having more resources and funds. The experts managing the HOA run it like a company and focus on making it a profitable venture.
A corporate HOA can be quite strict and can have access to more resources, making it difficult for you to fight with them. More often than not, this is nothing personal, “it’s just business.”
Ignorance Gives Power to HOAs
HOA Governing Documents
Before buying a property in an HOA community, read the governing documents carefully. Most HOAs will give you CC&Rs (also known as the HOA Declaration of Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions), Articles of Incorporation, Bylaws, and Rules & Regulations. Each of these documents is important and serves a different objective.
CC&Rs are a legal contract that you have to sign while purchasing a property in an HOA community. This document states the rights of every resident, as well as the HOA.
The HOA Article of Incorporation has fundamental details like the association’s name, location, and purpose.
The Bylaws act more like a guideline that has the HOA processes of everyday operations and structure of the community.
Rules & Regulations contain community policies in detail.
Knowledge Is Power
When dealing with your HOA, the adage “knowledge is power” is very true.
In case of any conflict, these governing documents can help you to make your case. If your HOA is treating you unfairly or violating your rights, you can use the information in the governing documents to put your point across.
You must always have the latest and the most updated CC&Rs. If you don’t know the legal limitations of your HOA, they can easily take advantage of you.
State Law Overrides HOA
According to the legal hierarchy, your state law will always take precedence over HOA policies.
Legally, your HOA cannot enforce any law that violates the state law. If your HOA has enacted a law or a clause in your signed contract that infringes upon your basic constitutional and common law rights as a homeowner, then you can hold the HOA responsible.
The first step to resolving conflicts with an HOA is to be acquainted with the state laws and the HOA policies.
Know Your Rights
The purpose of knowing the law and the HOA governing documents is to be aware of your rights as a homeowner.
Along with state laws, federal laws also apply to HOA. Several federal laws regulate the HOA functions and protect the homeowners and the general public.
Some of the federal laws that directly impact an HOA:
- Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 prohibits discrimination against specially-abled people.
- The Fair Housing Act (FHA) prohibits discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, familial status, and national origin.
- Fair Debt Collection Practices Act regulates the collection of the HOA fees and bans harassment or abusive conduct by debt collectors toward consumers.
- The Freedom to Display the American Flag Act of 2005 gives the right to display the USA flag.
If your HOA violates any federal law, then it will have to face severe consequences.
Knowing your rights not only helps you to protect them but also enables you to change or modify the HOA’s rules and regulations that are unfair, discriminatory, or violate your rights as a citizen.
Apart from having rights like the Right of Possession, the Right of Control, the Right of Exclusion, the Right of Enjoyment, and the Right of Disposition, you also have the legal right to question the HOA fees and special assessment and access HOA documents and financial reports.
If you are tired of your HOA and want to annoy them within your legal rights then check out this article for some easy and cool ways to give your HOA a hard time. Legally.
Choose Your Battles
Most HOAs would not want to get into a legal battle with homeowners. The primary reason being the exorbitant legal fees, but HOAs are also aware that aggravating one homeowner might lead to more residents joining in, and leading to complete mayhem.
You will be well-advised to avoid the hassle of lawsuits and try to sort out things in the most peaceful way. Firstly, if you have violated a rule, then the decent thing to do is to apologize and pay the fine.
You can also use the governing documents to object to a policy or defend your actions. You can choose to compose a formal letter, address this issue in the next meeting or just have a face-to-face discussion with the HOA professional.
Before starting a war against the HOA, it’s best to know exactly what your HOA can do and the extent it is willing to go.
In case of any rule violation, your HOA will impose a fine on you. If you don’t pay, your HOA will fine you repeatedly until you clear the fines. HOA has the power to add these unpaid fines or fees to your property tax bill.
If you don’t pay the fine after being told several times, then these unpaid fines can lead to your home being forced into foreclosure. Depending on the severity of the action, your HOA can also involve authorities.