- Homeowners Associations are governed by strict by-laws that they must follow when making decisions.
- If the association does not follow its guidelines, it can lead to a dispute between the homeowner and the association.
- When this happens, its important for a homeowner to know what the by-laws require when filing a lawsuit.
Where I live, we don’t have a homeowners’ association. I generally think that’s good for me overall. But I think that view is probably biased because of what I do for a living. It seems like whenever I run into an HOA its because we are representing a homeowner against some egregious action the HOA has taken.
But HOAs aren’t all bad. Associations can offer a sense of community, shared amenities, and efficient maintenance services. However, the intricate web of rules, fees, and maintenance responsibilities can sometimes lead to disputes. And that’s when things can get ugly. And the homeowner needs to know how to protect his or her property. So that’s what I wrote about this week.
Understanding Common Dispute Areas
Homeowners and their associations often find themselves entangled in disputes revolving around three main areas: rules, fees, and maintenance.
- Rules: Every community association operates under a set of governing documents, including bylaws, covenants, conditions, and restrictions (CC&Rs), which outline the rules homeowners must abide by. Disagreements may arise when homeowners perceive these rules as restrictive or unreasonable, leading to conflicts over issues like property alterations, noise levels, or pet ownership. Or when the HOAs just flat out don’t follow those rules – which happens more than you’d think.
- Fees: Associations levy fees to cover maintenance, repairs, landscaping, and amenities. Here, disagreements can arise when associations misallocate or misuse those fees. And as a result, if the homeowner refuses to pay, this can escalate the situation.
- Maintenance: Maintaining shared amenities and common areas is a significant responsibility of community associations. Disputes can arise if the HOA is not meeting its maintenance obligations, resulting in conflicts over property values, aesthetics, and quality of life.
- Abuse of Power: Ultimately, associations are governed by a board made up of people. And then that board hires a management company – run by other people. And sometimes those people are fallible. They can fail to follow the rules or abuse their power. If that happens, homeowners can understandably get angry.
What to do if You are Fighting with Your HOA
Again, I admit I may be jaded because I am a real estate lawyer. But we see a lot of homeowner/HOA disputes. So what should you do when you have a dispute with your HOA?
- Open Communication: Both homeowners and associations should maintain open lines of communication to address concerns promptly. Associations should have regular meetings to discuss issues and keep homeowners informed about decisions that affect them.
- Mediation and Arbitration: Before rushing into litigation, consider alternative dispute resolution methods like mediation and arbitration. These processes can help parties reach a compromise without the time and expense associated with a lawsuit. Texas law encourages mediation for community association disputes before pursuing legal action and the community by-laws may require it.
- Know the Governing Documents: Homeowners should familiarize themselves with the community’s governing documents to understand their rights and responsibilities. Associations must ensure these documents are clear, well-drafted, and regularly updated to avoid ambiguity and potential conflicts.
- Engage Legal Counsel: When disputes escalate, seeking legal counsel is essential. Attorneys experienced in Texas property law and community associations can provide tailored advice and representation. Legal professionals can help interpret governing documents, assess the strength of a case, and guide negotiations.
What to do When Suit is Only Option
If all else fails, however, the homeowner may want to file a lawsuit against the HOA. If this is where you are at, its very important to make sure you have read the association by-laws. They will dictate what steps you need to follow. And often they will require mediation or arbitration as an alternative way to resolve the dispute. But, as with any dispute resolution, you should not go into this alone. Hiring a competent lawyer to help you navigate the process and present your grievance is essential.