If you move into certain subdivisions or condominium complexes, the community may require you to join a homeowners association. As part of the association, you must pay monthly or annual dues, and you also must sign documents promising that you will abide by the HOA's rules. HOAs can regulate virtually anything, as long as they don't violate housing laws.
HOAs often regulate the type of homes in a neighborhood, as well as the construction of additions to the property, such as outbuildings, pools, basketball courts or fences. HOAs also may impose other regulations, such as restrictions on home businesses, the number of cars that can be in a driveway at one time, landscaping and the types of mailboxes homeowners can have. Finally, HOAs determine the fees that homeowners must pay to become and remain part of the community.
When homeowners don't abide by the HOA's rules, the HOA can take action against them. For minor infractions, the homeowner may receive a verbal or written warning from the HOA. If the homeowner commits a major infraction, or if he fails to respond to a warning, the HOA may impose a fine. For extremely serious or repeated violations, HOAs may even be able to evict the homeowner from the community.
HOAs cannot impose any regulations that violate the Fair Housing Act of 1968. Under the Fair Housing Act, HOAs can't refuse to approve the sale of housing or set different terms of sale based on disabilities, familial status, sex, religion, national origin, color or race. HOAs also must allow modifications to their regulations to accommodate people with disabilities. For example, if the HOA forbids modifications to the outside of a home, it must bend this rule if a homeowner needs to install a wheelchair ramp.
Before moving into a community that is regulated by an HOA, you must receive and sign a copy of the HOA's regulations. Read these regulations carefully to make sure that you can abide by them comfortably. If you believe that an HOA has violated your rights under the Fair Housing Act, you can file a complaint by mail or online with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development using the Housing Discrimination Complaint form, which is available on HUD's website. You also can call the HUD office closest to you.
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