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Homeowners Association Disputes

If you live in a neighborhood with a homeowners association (HOA) long enough, problems will arise. You will likely encounter some disputes between the HOA and individual homeowners. For example, HOAs are required to keep a certain amount of cash in reserves for unexpected expenditures. If an HOA's cash balance falls below a certain level, it may raise the monthly HOA dues to cover the shortfall. Homeowners may balk at the rate hike, blaming the HOA for mismanaging the funds.

This article provides a brief overview of typical homeowners association disputes. For more information and frequently asked questions (FAQ), visit these additional real estate legal resources:

Some of the disputes between homeowners and their associations are simply misunderstandings. Others are amusing, and still others are considerably more serious. Cases range in legal significance from residents being sued by their homeowners associations for using the wrong shade of paint, to residents winning multi-million-dollar class-action lawsuits against their HOAs.

Examples of Disputes

In one 2018 case, a couple in Hayden, Idaho won a lawsuit against their HOA. The dispute had arisen after the couple covered their home with over 200,000 Christmas lights. They had invited people to drive by their home to view the spectacle. The couple had turned their home, and therefore the neighborhood, into an attraction.

According to the HOA, the association had rules regarding the installation of excessive lights and increased traffic. The HOA alleged the couple was breaking those rules by creating a spectacle. The couple ended up winning the lawsuit and were awarded $75,000 by a jury. The award held even though the couple decided to move to a new area.

In an even more recent example, a couple in Belleville, Illinois was sued by their HOA in a legal dispute. The lawsuit alleged violations for allegedly installing improper solar panels on the couple's roof. The couple had received express verbal permission from all of their immediate neighbors, but they did not get the HOA's approval before installing the panels. In response, the local HOA sued the couple, demanding that the panels on the front of the house be removed and that the couple cover all legal fees.

Common Disputes in Planned Communities

Typical HOA disputes involve:

  • Noise complaints including loud music and parties
  • Property maintenance issues such as not cutting the lawn and unrepaired roofing or siding
  • Home renovations or additions that violate HOA regulations, like fencing that is too high or too close to the street
  • Claims of irregular enforcement if the HOA seems to allow some violations or shows favoritism

A co-op or condominium will have HOA rules that cover these situations. Also known as governing documents, these rules are included as a package of:

These documents cannot violate federal or state laws. However, they can be more restrictive than general regulations or local ordinances. For example, while zoning requirements might be silent on fence heights, CC&Rs may explicitly set inch limits.

A property owner might find themselves at odds with a property management company or the HOA board of directors. This may happen because they disagree with a fee assessment, alleged common area rule violation, or some other aspect of their legal rights.

The disclaimer to keep in mind is that HOAs help maintain property values even if they pose an annoyance. However, that does not give them the right to violate real estate laws or discriminate against homeowners.

Legal Actions and Dispute Resolutions

Homeowners association disputes are quite common but usually resolvable without litigation. Sometimes disputes can be resolved through simple e-mails and phone calls. Other times, a formal meeting between homeowners and the HOA board members may be warranted.

When a problem is more difficult to resolve, the parties may have to involve lawyers. In these more complex cases, the parties and their attorneys may choose to privately mediate their disputes. Otherwise, mandatory arbitration or litigation in court may ensue.

A Lawyer Can Help

If you're involved in a dispute with a HOA, you may want to consider seeking the services of a knowledgeable real estate attorney. They will be familiar with these types of issues and can provide you with legal advice toward resolution.

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