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Homeowners Associations and Government

Dealing with a dispute within your homeowners' association (HOA) can be frustrating. It might feel like your voice isn't heard or your rights are being stepped on by board members. Understanding the role of local government in these disputes is key to knowing your options and rights.

The Unique Powers of HOAs

HOAs have special powers that can sometimes override individual freedoms. They manage common areas and enforce community rules, known as covenants, conditions, and restrictions (CC&Rs). These can affect various aspects of homeownership, from property values to landscaping choices.

Limited Federal Regulation of HOAs

Federal laws do regulate some aspects of HOA power. These include:

  • Preventing discrimination as per fair housing laws
  • Ensuring truthfulness and avoiding deception
  • Respecting procedures in bankruptcy cases

These rules are limited and don't cover every aspect of HOA governance, as federal law addresses broad issues that affect HOAs.

The areas beyond federal control include:

  • Assessments and Special Assessments: HOAs often collect regular assessments from unit owners to manage and maintain common property. They may also levy special assessments for significant expenses or projects. The federal government does not regulate how these assessments are determined or applied.
  • Restrictive Covenants and Zoning: HOAs have their own set of rules. These are known as restrictive covenants. They dictate how properties can be used, which often include zoning-like regulations. These rules are decided by the HOA and are not often subject to federal regulation.
  • Foreclosure Practices: While federal law may impose certain broad guidelines, the specifics of how an HOA can initiate foreclosure proceedings against a property owner for unpaid assessments or dues are determined by state law and the HOA's rules.
  • Property Taxes and Land Use: HOAs might have guidelines about land use within their community. However, these are separate from local government ordinances and zoning laws. While property taxes are a concern for all property owners, the way an HOA influences these taxes, if at all, falls outside federal oversight.
  • Real Estate Developer Involvement: The role and responsibilities of real estate developers in establishing and transitioning control of an HOA to the property owners are guided by state laws and the specific development's governing documents.
  • Cooperatives (Co-ops) and Condominium Associations: While these entities are types of common interest communities often managed by an HOA, the internal governance, including how unit owners participate, is left to the association's rules and state law.

State Law and HOA Management

Different states handle HOA issues in unique ways. For example, in Colorado, as seen with Senate Bill 100, the state legislature stepped in to restrict HOA rules on displaying the American flag and political signs. New York doesn't have a specific agency to help in HOA disputes. California has also implemented laws that guide the operation of common interest developments, which include homeowners associations.

Why Government Doesn't Resolve Individual HOA Disputes

Government agencies don't often get involved in individual HOA disputes. This is due to the autonomous nature of HOAs as non-profit corporations. In general, these associations are self-governing based on their articles of incorporation. The board of directors and community associations manage internal affairs according to their governing documents.

Potential HOA Power Abuses

HOAs can sometimes abuse their power. They might impose severe penalties for minor infractions or show bias in enforcing rules. High fines and strict enforcement can create tensions and unfair situations.

Seeking Legal Help

When government intervention isn't an option, other legal avenues can be explored. This can include:

  • Negotiation with the HOA board
  • A thorough review of the CC&Rs and circumstances
  • Suing the HOA

An attorney experienced in real estate and condominium law can guide you through these processes.

Knowing When to Act

Deciding whether to accept a penalty or fight back depends on several factors. Understanding your bylaws, the role of the HOA, and the impact of the dispute on your homeownership rights is critical. Legal counsel can help assess the situation and advise on the best course of action.

While the government plays a limited role in resolving disputes with homeowners associations, understanding your rights within the framework of state law, federal regulations, and the specific CC&Rs of your HOA is crucial. If you feel your rights as a property owner are at risk, seek legal guidance from a real estate attorney.

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