Homeowners associations are organizations (usually non-profit) that are created (usually by a real estate developer) for the purpose of operating a residential community. The developer has legal and financial responsibility within the HOA. When he’s sold a pre-determined quota of lots, he may transfer ownership of the HOA to the development’s homeowners. Most HOAs are incorporated and subject to state law.
HOAs can be a blessing or a curse, depending on your perspective as a homeowner. It’s not unheard of for HOA boards to overstep their authority, and if this happens, you need to be aware of your rights.
What Do HOAs Do?
When you buy into a development, you automatically become a member of the HOA. The HOA board’s main function is to protect the investment of all the homeowners in the community, and to make sure that no one does anything that adversely affects property values.
What Should I Do If I’m Having a Dispute with My HOA?
First of all, stay calm. HOA board members are usually volunteers – people just like you. Convey your concerns in a respectful fashion, and explain clearly what it is you want.
Document everything. Keep copies of any warnings you’ve received, and once you’ve complied with the HOA’s demand, send them a letter saying so. Ask for return correspondence confirming your compliance.
If the issue is dues or fines, pay them now and dispute them later. This isn’t something you should just ignore, first because the HOA could put a lien on your home and even, at some point, foreclose. At the very least, interest and penalties could begin to add up. Conversely, if you win your dispute, you’ll get your payments back with interest.
Talk to your neighbors. They could be having the same problem, and they can offer support. There’s strength in numbers, and if you stick together, the HOA board may back down.
Ask for a hearing. Again, put it in writing, and be respectful. Present the facts as you see them at the hearing, and bring evidence.
If a hearing gets you nowhere, you might want to get a little more aggressive in your approach. Would the media be interested in your plight? Can you file a grievance against HOA members who are enforcing regulations capriciously?
Consider trying to get the rules changed. This can be tough, but if you can convince fellow members that something would work better for them, you might get some support. Pick your battles – If you want to do something like paint your house purple, don’t waste your time trying to convince your fellow members that a riot of bright colors will increase their property values.
What If I’m Being Discriminated Against?
This doesn’t often happen, but sometimes it isn’t just about disagreeing with the HOA’s rules, or about a board member not liking you and using his or her power capriciously. If you’ve been denied the right to do something that all your neighbors have been permitted to do, it’s possible that there’s something more sinister going on. If you can show that you were discriminated against because of your race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, etc., you might want to consider hiring a lawyer. If you’re concerned about the cost, you should know that much of the time, just a letter from an attorney will cause the HOA to back off.