Real Estate

Disagreements With Your Community or Homeowners' Association (HOA)

By Ilona Bray, J.D., University of Washington Law School
Understanding your rights if you, as a homeowner, and the board running your homeowners' association don't see eye to eye.

When you purchase a property in a community that's governed by a homeowners' association (HOA), you agree to abide by its rules. If, for example, you bought a newly built home in a development, or a condominium or townhouse, such community rules probably apply to you.

Where do these rules come from? The property developer usually sets up the HOA and its rules, but residents later have the power to join the HOA board and either enforce or amend the rules (depending on the procedures set forth in the community's bylaws).

Review Your HOA's Rules

Your HOA community's rules for homeowners to follow are most likely set forth in a document referred to as the Declaration of Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions (CC&Rs). New buyers are ordinarily given a copy of these for review before they finalize the sale, so that they know what they're getting into.

Typical CC&Rs go a lot farther than merely prohibiting bad behavior. They are meant to help maintain the condition, value, and in many instances uniformity of the properties within the association. So, for example, the CC&Rs might state whether homeowners may erect fences or laundry lines, whether they may hang flags, what their obligations are regarding lawn-mowing and snow removal, what type or color of curtains they may put up, what pets are allowed, and much more.

Before protesting any HOA action against you, make sure to review the CC&Rs and see whether your own actions were allowable or were, in fact, done in violation of the rules.

Keep Up With HOA Rule Changes

The rules in your community can change, and you might end up living under different rules from when you moved in. Rule changes generally occur at periodic meetings of the HOA board, which is typically made up of volunteer homeowners from within the community.

Residents can, and arguably should, attend these meetings. By doing so, you can voice your opinion and keep up with current issues affecting the HOA and any changes to the rules. You might even want to join the HOA board.

Consider Ways to Achieve Compromise in a Dispute With an HOA

If you notify your HOA that you're having a problem with its rules or with another homeowner, the HOA may (depending on your state's law) be obligated to arrange for mediation or arbitration. You might be able to work out a compromise or initiate an amendment to the rules. Alternatively, for minor issues, you might agree to simply follow the rule.

Taking further action can create a negative relationship with your HOA and fellow homeowners who may, after all, be your neighbors for the long term. You don't want to get into a downward spiral such that you feel your only option is to sell your home and move.

Last Resort: Take Legal Action Against the HOA

If you have a major dispute and believe your HOA is out of line, you can take legal action. For example, the HOA might be asking that you take some action (or refrain from some action) that isn't officially covered in the CC&Rs. Or it might be unfairly favoring some homeowners over others.

Because an HOA is a legal entity, you can file a lawsuit against it and ask a court to get involved. A judge can order the HOA to obey its own rules. A court can even decide that a certain rule is unfair or unconstitutional and order it to be stricken or removed from the HOA governing documents.

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