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You vs. The HOA

A large amount of Americans are required to follow the rules and regulations of a condo, cooperative or homeowners association. Many get involved in a dispute at some point or another with their association that proved difficult to resolve. Even in the best HOA associations, conflict sometimes arises, whether it's over parking rules, resident dues or other issues. When an owner takes on an HOA, the deck can be stacked against the homeowner. However, that doesn’t mean a homeowner can’t prevail, but it does mean that homeowners should tread carefully.


Homeowners associations are controlled by state law, and laws vary state-to-state, with separate laws for homeowners, co-op or condo associations. Plus, each association has its own set of government documents, known as for Declaration of Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions, or CC&Rs, as well as bylaws and rules. The CC&Rs are a legally binding document filed with the state, and the bylaws are the procedures by which the association is run. 


Associations and homeowners must often come into conflict over the collection of dues or assessments and the enforcement of rules. The stakes can be high when going against the HOA because many associations have provisions that allow them to fine homeowners who don’t comply with the documents, file a lien against a home and even take the home by foreclosure. Most associations have the right to foreclosure for nonpayment of dues after a certain period, including attorney fees and late charges.


If you receive a notice that your dues haven't been paid, or that you have violated a rule, you should first call and ask for a meeting. If you inadvertently violated a rule, admit your guilt and apologize. If you believe the board is in error, ask for clarification – in writing – about precisely which rule the board believes was violated, plus what action the board is seeking. Litigation is expensive for the board, too, which opens the door for negotiating a compromise.


Read the 7 tips below to learn how to effectively get what you want from the HOA:


  1. Learn the rules. You should have read all the government documents, including the rules and regulations before you closed on your purchase. Knowing the rules and complying keep you out of trouble. If you’re accused of violating a rule that you don’t see in your documents, seek clarification in writing. Ask for a hearing and follow the process outlined in your documents for procedures. 
  2. Be aware of the penalties. How far you can take a fight without incurring significant expenses will vary, based on your association’s attitude toward litigation as well as your governing documents. Some associations can levy massive fines that can become a lien on your house and lead to foreclosure. Keep the stakes in mind when you are deciding how far to take your fight.
  3. Document everything. You want to have a paper trail in case you do end up in court. You also want to make sure that all members of the board, and your neighbors if you want to share, have the same understanding about what’s going on. Document everything in writing to avoid “he said, she said” situations.
  4. Don’t argue with the rules. While you may not be in favor of your association's rule prohibiting pickup trucks in driveways, arguing the advisability of the rule will get you nowhere if you’re accused of violating it. If you think the rule should be changed, get your neighbors to join you in a petition.
  5. Be nice. Your board members and committee members are your neighbors, and they are working as volunteers. Don't start out on a hostile note. Treating everyone with kindness will get your position a more respectful hearing.
  6. Keep paying your dues. No matter what you’re arguing about, make your monthly payments as well as pay any late charges that have been levied. Otherwise, the amount due can escalate once the board starts adding attorney fees. If it turns out you were overcharged, you can ask for a refund later.
  7. Keep in mind that compliance is governed by a volunteer board of directors, though larger associations often contract with management companies to handle day-to-day tasks. If you run into problems you can’t resolve with your association, your only recourse in most cases is to sue in civil court, which can be expensive. Even if you prevail, you may still end up paying your own attorney fees. And the association’s fees are going to be shared among you and your neighbors.


That’s a good reason to deal with conflict before it reaches that point.