Homeowners’ associations (HOAs) play a key role in managing and maintaining housing developments and even neighborhoods. Depending on your experience with them, people tend to either feel positively or negatively about the control an HOA has over the common areas of a community.
Typically, most people’s only interaction with their HOA comes on the heels of a dispute. They get a warning about a rule violation or have a request denied due to a specific bylaw in the community. It can be frustrating to feel at the mercy of a pseudo-government, but did you know there are unenforceable HOA rules?
As a homeowner living in a property that belongs to an HOA, it’s important to be aware of your rights and what these organizations can’t do.
HOA rules are enforceable when they’re established in accordance with the governing documents of the association and applicable laws. These rules typically gain their enforceability once they are properly adopted and communicated to all homeowners within the community.
Specific requirements for enforceability may vary depending on the jurisdiction and the language outlined in the association's governing documents. Enforceability laws also differ from state to state — what’s enforceable in Texas may not be enforceable in South Carolina, California or Maryland, for example.
Once rules are established within the legal framework and properly communicated to homeowners, the HOA can enforce them through a variety of means, including issuing warnings, fines, or pursuing legal action if necessary.
While many HOAs are aggressive in their enforcement of policies, there are a handful of rules that they can’t legally enforce. Typically, these are situations that would disenfranchise a homeowner or interfere with established laws and legal precedents.
Here’s a look at some potentially contentious situations where the HOA has no grounds to enforce rules or retaliate against homeowners.
HOAs cannot discriminate against homeowners based on their race color, religion, national origin, sex, familial status, or disability. Under the Fair Housing Act, HOAs and other organizations are prohibited against discriminatory practices, ensuring equal treatment and fair housing opportunities for all.
HOAs may impose a ban on “for sale” signs placed on homeowners' properties, thinking it will keep the aesthetic appeal of the community intact. Fortunately, this rule is considered unenforceable in many states. The Federal Fair Housing Act considers this an infringement on the homeowner's right to sell their property and prevents any restrictions to this. They may, however, permit guidelines regarding the size, location or design of the “for sale” signs.
HOAs often impose limits on how many people could visit a resident at any given time. These restrictions may limit invitees from parking on community roads or sidewalks. Remember that HOAs may not restrict the number of visitors unless there is a valid reason related to safety or any other critical community standard.
It's an HOA's responsibility to manage the property's common areas and ensure that all facilities are maintained properly. The HOA may decide to make the homeowners pay for repairs or maintenance costs in the property's common areas, which may seem like an unreasonable burden. Unless mentioned explicitly in their agreements, homeowners aren't responsible for the repairs in common areas in the property.
HOAs can’t infringe upon an individual’s right to practice their religion. Homeowners are generally allowed to engage in religious activities within the privacy of their homes — or designated communal spaces — as long as they don’t violate any reasonable community guidelines or pose a nuisance to other residents.
While HOAs have the authority to charge fees for maintenance and community services, they can’t impose arbitrary or excessive fees without providing proper justification. Fees must always be reasonable, and homeowners have the right to request transparent and detailed explanations of the charges.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has regulations that protect homeowners’ rights to install satellite dishes or antennas on their properties. HOAs can’t unreasonably restrict the installation of these devices, as long as they comply with size, placement, and aesthetic guidelines set forth by the FCC.
Many states have enacted laws to protect homeowners’ rights to install solar panels on their properties. HOAs are generally not allowed to prohibit the installation of solar panels as long as they meet reasonable requirements regarding size, placement, and aesthetic concerns. HOAs can intervene if the homeowners don’t follow these guidelines.
HOAs can’t infringe upon homeowners’ rights to engage in political expression, like displaying political signs or engaging in peaceful political activities within the bounds of the law. In some cases, certain restrictions may apply to ensure the signs don’t become excessive or create safety hazards.
Under the Fair Housing Act, HOAs are required to make reasonable accommodations for residents with disabilities. They can’t deny reasonable requests for modifications or accommodations that enable disabled individuals to have equal access and enjoyment of their homes, within certain limits and guidelines.
HOAs can’t prohibit or impose additional fees on residents with valid emotional support animals or service animals. The Fair Housing Act protects the rights of individuals with disabilities to have assistance animals as necessary accommodations.
HOAS generally can’t make significant changes to governing documents (like bylaws or covenants) without following proper procedures outlined in those documents and complying with state laws. Homeowners usually have the right to review proposed amendments and provide input before changes are made.
In certain areas where water conservation is a top priority, HOAs may not prohibit residents from implementing rainwater harvesting systems. These systems collect and store rainwater for non-potable uses like landscaping or gardening.
If a resident of an HOA believes the association has acted outside its authority, there are several steps they can take to address the problem:
Understanding your rights as a homeowner within an HOA community is important when it comes to maintaining a harmonious living environment with your neighbors. While HOAs have the authority to enforce rules and regulations, there are clear boundaries to their power. By being aware of what HOAs can’t do, you can assert your rights, engage in responsible community participation, and contribute to a positive and inclusive neighborhood atmosphere. Remember to consult specific governing documents and local laws applicable to your community for comprehensive guidance.
Here are more answers to common questions about unenforceable HOA rules.
The governance of homeowners associations (HOAs) varies by state. In general, HOAs are regulated by state laws, which outline the rights, responsibilities, and limitations of these associations. The specific governing entity or agency overseeing HOAs can differ from state to state though. To determine which authority is specifically in charge of HOAs in your state, you can refer to the following resources:
Determining if an HOA rule is unenforceable requires a careful review of applicable laws, governing documents (such as the HOA's bylaws and covenants, conditions, and restrictions), and any relevant legal opinions or court rulings. Consulting with an attorney experienced in HOA matters can provide valuable guidance in assessing the enforceability of specific rules, and the resources listed above.
Homeowners who believe an HOA rule is unenforceable typically have several options. They can communicate their concerns to the HOA board or attend HOA meetings to voice their objections. If necessary, homeowners may seek legal counsel to challenge the rule through mediation, arbitration, or litigation, depending on the specific circumstances and applicable laws.
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