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HOA Ruining Your Life? 8 Things It Can’t Do—and How You Can Fight Back

January 15, 2020

Living with a homeowners association (HOA) can come with a legion of perks—like gorgeously manicured common lawns, swanky amenities, and some rad Fourth of July barbecues.

But there’s a reason that a stigma exists against homeowners associations: Board members on a power trip can institute and enforce some ridiculous restrictions.

Ridiculous, like “restricting the color of trampoline covers” ridiculous.

Like “You must keep your garage door open during the day” ridiculous.

Like “You must carry your cocker spaniel through the lobby” ridiculous. (Come on!)

Even when you feel as though your HOA rules have turned into an implacable steel trap determined to ruin your life at every turn, find comfort in this: Homeowners associations are bound by the rule of law, no matter what the president of the board says.

State and federal law restrict the homeowners association’s abilities to restrict you.

Below, find eight things HOAs can’t enforce on homeowners.

1. Discriminate undiscriminatingly

Your homeowners association board might like to play at being tyrants, but here’s a line it can’t cross: the Fair Housing Act.

“An association must be careful enacting and enforcing rules that would single out or disadvantage any group identified in the Fair Housing Act,” says Craig T. Smith, a lawyer in Hilton Head Island, SC.

That means that your homeowners association can’t fine you or keep you from purchasing a home in the neighborhood because of your ethnicity or race.

It also can’t kick you out because members of the board hate your religion, or don’t like Germans, because you have children, or because you wear a Make America Great Again hat on a regular basis.

States often have additional protections safeguarding the homeowner. For example, California law protects sexual orientation and gender identity.

2. String you out on the (clothes)line

Nineteen states have laws on the books to prohibit a funny HOA restriction: your right to “solar drying.” (That’s a fancy term for using a clothesline.)

This time-honored tradition saves money and protects your clothes, but to your eagle-eyed HOA board, all those fabrics blowing in the breeze may not look “uniform.”

Too bad, buckaroos: Since almost half of states protect your right to dry, any anti-clothesline additions to the covenants, conditions, and restrictions (CC&Rs) are downright unenforceable. Feel free to let your denim wave in the wind.

(There’s one caveat: If your backyard is shared with another homeowner, the HOA might have the right to restrict your strung-up lines.)

3. Fine you for fun

Fines are the lifeblood of a malicious HOA—and we cannot, unfortunately, tell you that they’re blatantly illegal. But they “must be set forth in the association’s rules and bylaws,” says Barbara Jordan, a real estate lawyer in Columbus, OH.

Are threatening letters making an appearance in your mailbox, telling you to trim that rosebush or face a fine? Check the community’s CC&Rs before complying. If that fine isn’t listed, you might not need to pay.

Of course, that doesn’t mean your HOA board will roll over, either; you might need to appeal the fine.

If so, first scrutinize those CC&Rs to make sure you have standing. Then, gather all the evidence you have and present it at the next board meeting. (Your HOA may have specific instructions for this process—make sure you follow them!)

If your argument is sound, it could pull back the charges.

4. Make decisions on the fly

Your community’s HOA treasurer can’t suddenly decide she hates pink mailboxes. Next time Shirley Homeowner comes over complaining, practice these magic words: “Is that mentioned in the CC&Rs?”

And slipping HOA rules in under the cover of darkness is a big no-no. The regulations for how new rules can be enacted should be outlined in your CC&Rs—and if the HOA isn’t following its own stipulations, you have a valid complaint for any secret swashbuckling.

If you do suspect something shady is afoot concerning what is included (and what isn’t included) in your HOA rules, start requesting documents and attending public meetings.

5. Demand you take down your dish

Your cable TV decisions are protected, thanks to the FCC’s Over-the-Air Reception Devices Rule. No matter how ugly your HOA thinks your space-gray satellite dish is, the board members can’t force you to take it down. Hello, cheap cable!

You might find that some HOAs still have antenna restrictions written into their covenants. These may be retro artifacts from pre-1997, when the FCC rule came into play.

If you spot these curious addenda in your CC&Rs, take your concerns straight to board members. After all, you have the federal government on your side!

6. Nix native plants

Not all states protect your right to grow an environmentally friendly garden abundant with native plants. But if you’re in Texas or California, you can push back if the board’s not savvy with agave.

Florida, too, has its own homeowner-friendly rules: HOAs can’t restrict plants simply because they’re not in the community’s overall design plan.

If you’re a homeowner in one of those states, persuading your HOA to embrace eco-friendly policies isn’t impossible. With the right attitude and enough evidence of go-green benefits, you might just convert the entire neighborhood.

7. Keep you out of court

Snippy HOAs might make you think they’re above the law—but if you’re truly in a bind, you can challenge that assertion.

Chances are good (although not certain) that you’ll have the upper hand in a proper court of law, Smith says, especially if the board of directors acted in an underhanded manner.

If the association’s governing documents allow it, start by demanding a hearing before the board. If that demand is met with silence, take it one step further: to the actual courts.

“This is typically a move of last resort,” Smith says.

But if you’re past the point of mild frustration, a lawsuit might do the trick. Homeowners have sued their board for the right to display a sign critical of the HOA.

One Olathe, KS, homeowner successfully filed a lawsuit to keep his elaborate landscaping—which another resident said was the “nicest-looking [landscaping] in the entire neighborhood.”

8. Beat you down

No matter how many letters and fines the board throws at you, you still have rights.

“Show up,” Jordan says. “Go to the meetings. Be on record as objecting to the issues. Write letters.”

Just make sure to follow the process for objections.

“Do not miss deadlines or forgo opportunities to be heard,” Jordan says. “That will only hurt your case.”

And do what you can to get your neighbors on board. Together, you can call for new elections or push to scrap excessive or unnecessary rules.

The post HOA Ruining Your Life? 8 Things It Can’t Do—and How You Can Fight Back appeared first on Real Estate News & Insights | realtor.com®.

7 Common HOA Rule Violations—and How to Avoid Getting Fined

September 9, 2019

common HOA violations

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Living in a community managed by a homeowners association (HOA) means that you’re obligated to follow certain rules and regulations. Depending upon your HOA, these rules can be very particular—so particular that you may not even know you’re doing something wrong! And if you disobey your community’s covenants, conditions, and restrictions (CC&Rs), you could get fined.

“Fines are a tool to gain compliance, and it is not uncommon for them to be reduced or waived once compliance is achieved,” says Dawn Bauman, senior vice president, government and public affairs, for the Community Associations Institute in Falls Church, VA. She says some rule violations could yield one-time fines of anywhere from $25 to $100, or daily fines of around $10 per day.

The best way to avoid fines is to stay in the loop with your community. Familiarize yourself with the CC&Rs, read community documents, attend community board meetings, pay attention to community updates, and ask questions when you think you might be in violation.

Curious which requirements tend to trip up homeowners the most? Here are some of the most common HOA rule violations.

1. House design changes

Making any changes to the appearance or structure of your home—such as adding a new mailbox or paint job—requires getting permission from your HOA.

David Berman, an attorney for Barry Miller Law, a business and real estate law firm in Orlando, FL, says the most common violations he hears about involve compliance with architectural design standards and covenants. This includes changes made to the exterior of a home without the association’s approval. Why? A good portion of the rules in most HOA CC&Rs have to do with the appearance of your home.

2. Smoking near neighbors

Other common violations are those that inconvenience other residents at the association, says David Swedelson, a community association attorney and a founding partner of SwedelsonGottlieb in Los Angeles.

“This would include smoking that creates a nuisance, whether it be cigarettes, cigars, or marijuana,” Swedelson says.

Owners may have authorization to use marijuana for medical purposes, but that does not necessarily include the right to smoke in their unit if the smoke affects their neighbors.

3. Pets

HOAs may impose limits on pets in the community, including the number of pets you own; the specific breeds allowed; where pets can be walked; and whether or not they must be kept on a leash.

“We are seeing a lot of owners claim that their dog is a service animal, so they can get around a weight restriction or other rules in the CC&Rs,” says Swedelson.

If you’re a pet owner interested in buying in an HOA community, be sure to ask about the rules on pets. And if you already live in an HOA community and are considering adopting, make sure you’re familiar with the rules on pets before bringing a new four-legged friend home with you.

4. Illegal rentals

Thinking of renting out your home on Airbnb? Many HOAs require written permission to allow rental of your home, since renters may not be aware of the association rules. Given the popularity of short-term rentals, Swedelson says his firm is increasingly seeing violations surrounding this issue.

Making a little cash on the side is great, but be sure you’re in compliance with your community’s rules before renting out your place.

5. Landscaping, decorations, and other exterior upkeep

Overgrown weeds and lawns are a big no-no in an HOA community. Thinking about adding tall sunflowers to your garden? How about chopping down that huge tree on your front lawn? These are also situations in which you’d need to check with the HOA. Some boards even limit the types of trees and plants that are acceptable and where they can be located on your property.

Most HOAs also prohibit clutter outside your home. This includes outside storage. An HOA may take issue with things like bicycles or kayaks being stored outside in plain sight.

And during the holidays, HOA rules may limit how long before and after a holiday you can decorate the home’s exterior, including the size and type of decoration.

6. Motor vehicles

Many HOAs have rules on the number and types of vehicles (and boats, RVs, etc.) that can be parked in your driveway or on the street.

Having guests over for a dinner party? You may have to clear guest car parking with the HOA first. The same goes for out-of-town guests who are bringing a car; your HOA may require you to tell them how many days your guests plan on staying.

7. Garbage

Most HOAs are strict about putting trash cans out too early or not bringing them in on time. Be careful about bulky items you throw out, such as furniture items or boxes that haven’t been broken down—your board might have a problem with them being left on the curb.

The post 7 Common HOA Rule Violations—and How to Avoid Getting Fined appeared first on Real Estate News & Insights | realtor.com®.

What Is a Homeowners Association? HOAs—Explained

June 18, 2019

Xavier Arnau/iStock

What is a homeowners association? If you’re buying a condo, townhouse, or free-standing home in a neighborhood with shared common areas and amenities—such as swimming pools, tennis courts, parking garages, or even just the security gates and sidewalks in front of each residence—odds are high these areas are maintained by a homeowners association, or HOA.

What is a homeowners association, and how will it affect your life?

Homeowners associations help ensure that your community looks its best and functions smoothly, says David Reiss, research director at the Center for Urban Business Entrepreneurship at Brooklyn Law School.

For instance, if the pump in the community swimming pool stops working, someone has to take care of it before the water turns green and toxic, right? Rather than expect any one homeowner in the neighborhood to volunteer his time and money to fix the problem, homeowners associations are responsible for getting the job done. Think of it as similar to real estate property taxes that a homeowner pays for city and state services, except these fees go to pay for amenities and maintenance in your own planned community or condo building.

The number of Americans living in a home with an association is on the rise, growing from a mere 1% in 1970 to 25% today, according to the Foundation for Community Association Research. So, it’s wise to know exactly how such an association of homeowners works.

How much are HOA fees?

To cover these property maintenance expenses, homeowners associations collect fees or dues (monthly or yearly) from all community members. For a typical single-family home, HOA fees will cost homeowners around $200 to $300 per month, although they can be lower or much higher depending on the size of your house or condominium and the services provided. The larger the homeowner area, the higher the HOA fee—which makes sense, because the family of four homeowners in a three-bedroom condominium is probably going to be using the common facilities more than a single resident living in a studio condo.

Many HOAs pay property managers to oversee maintenance and deal with other real estate property issues.

In addition, most homeowners associations charge their members a little more in dues than monthly expenses require, so that they can build up a reserve to pay for property emergencies, amenities, and big-ticket items like repairing the roof and water heaters, or acquiring new carpeting, paint, and lights for the hallways.

If the association doesn’t have enough fees in reserve to cover necessary expenses, it can issue a special “assessment,” or an extra fee, in addition to your monthly dues, so that the repairs can be made.

For example, if the elevator in your condo building goes out and it’s going to cost $15,000 to replace it—but the HOA reserve account holds only $12,000—you and the rest of the residents are going to have to pony up at least an additional $3,000 in dues, divided among you, to make up the difference.

And yes, you as a resident still have to contribute your share of dues, even if your property is on the first floor.

HOA rules: What to expect

All HOAs have boards made up of homeowners in the complex who are typically elected by all homeowners. These board members will set up regular meetings where owners can gather and discuss major decisions and issues with their community. For major expenditures, all members of the HOA usually vote, not just members of the board.

In addition to management of the common areas, homeowners associations are also responsible for seeing that its community members follow certain rules and restrictions. Homeowners receive a copy of these rules from the HOA board, known as covenants, conditions, and restrictions (CC&Rs), when they move in, and they’re required to sign a contract saying that they’ll abide by them.

CC&Rs can cover everything from your type of mailbox to the size and breed of your dog. Some HOAs require you to purchase extra homeowners insurance if you own a pit bull, for example. Others have covenants and restrictions prohibiting certain breeds entirely. Many associations even have rules about what color you paint your house, what kind of curtains you can hang if your unit faces the street, and how long your lawn can grow. Its goal is not to meddle—it’s merely to maintain a neighborhood aesthetic. However, if you don’t like being told what to do with your home, living under the bylaws and rules of an association may not be for you.

What happens if you violate HOA rules?

That varies from place to place, but if you break the rules—or fall behind in paying your HOA dues—the consequences can be severe. The management could evict you from your property, or worse. Some HOAs have the right to foreclose on your property if you don’t pay your monthly fees or don’t follow the rules, says Bob Tankel, a Florida attorney specializing in HOA law.

So make sure you read your CC&Rs carefully so you know what to expect, and know the pros and cons of living in an HOA community before you buy real estate with a homeowners association.

The post What Is a Homeowners Association? HOAs—Explained appeared first on Real Estate News & Insights | realtor.com®.