Homeowners who buy into a condominium or common-interest development automatically become members of a homeowners association. An HOA board of directors, elected from among unit owners, establishes the rules and bylaws that spell out the rights and responsibilities of residents. The HOA also develops the association’s budget, assesses maintenance fees, deals with vendors and pays bills. Disputes may arise over assessments, rule changes or enforcement, poor maintenance and disturbances, but homeowners have options to challenge their HOAs.
Attend board meetings. HOA rules and regulations are spelled out in documents called covenants, conditions and restrictions, known as the CC&Rs. Unit owners are occasionally disgruntled to find that the HOA has changed an existing rule or imposed a new one without advance notice. However, every rule change must be put to a vote at board meetings that are open to all unit owners. By attending board meetings, owners can learn the thinking behind proposed rule changes and challenge those changes before they are adopted.
Sign a petition. If a number of unit owners object to a new rule or to lack of rule enforcement, inadequate maintenance, a fee hike or another HOA action, they can organize a petition to submit to the HOA board. Check the CC&Rs to see if it contains rules for collecting signatures and submitting such a petition.
Request mediation. Some HOAs provide for internal mediation in the case of owner vs. owner or owner vs. HOA disputes. If your problem is with enforcement, or lack of enforcement, of a particular rule, apply for mediation or arbitration and be prepared to live with the decision.
Hire a lawyer. Because HOAs are entities created under state laws, they can be sued. Typical unit owner complaints that go to court involve mismanagement of funds, negligent maintenance of common areas and violation of HOA rules. In addition, if you have been fined, if you are being sued by your HOA or if other attempts at a resolution have failed, you can seek the advice of a lawyer experienced in HOA laws and the governing laws of the state and willing to represent you in court. If your dispute concerns a specific rule, the court may find that the rule is unfair and order the HOA to repeal it.
As a long-time newspaper reporter and staff writer, Kay Bosworth covered real estate development and business for publications in northern New Jersey. Her extensive career included serving as editor of a business education magazine for the McGraw-Hill Book Company. The Kentucky native earned a BA from Transylvania University in Lexington.