Property Owner - "Two months ago I received notice that my tenant wasn't following the HOA rules. Rules?" Property Owner - "One month ago I was fined by the HOA because my tenant still was not following the rules. The fine was only $25. Still, I looked up the rules and sent them to my tenant with a request that he comply."
Property owner - "Two weeks ago I was sent an additional fine because my tenant persistently flaunted the HOA rules while living in my rental unit. This time the fine was $100. I immediately called my tenant to let him know that if I ever received another notice from the HOA that he had been non-compliant with any of the rules that I would begin the eviction process. I haven't heard from the HOA since then."
As discussed in a previous post, (see, HOA's Are Here To Stay), every HOA sets up rules that all owners and their tenants are legally required to obey. The particular rules and their enforcement vary with each HOA. The rules may simple and brief, only pertaining to the usually contentious issues such as the color of paint you use for the outside of your house, or there may many, detailed, and peculiar rules even forbidding such things as a seasonal Christmas wreath on your outside front door. The reasons for each rule may be the result of control freaky board members or because there were one or two residents who were persistently noxious in their lifestyles practices forcing other residents to insist that the board form more specific rules to forbid all such future practices.
When it comes to the rules
- Know the Docs. If you don't like a rule, please don't just fly off the handle without taking the time to study the relevant documents that your HOA is legal bound to operate by. Know which laws apply to your situation. Federal, State, and Local laws usually trump HOA rules if there is a conflict. But if not, HOA rules are very difficult to change without a quorum of owners showing up at a duly called meeting and obtaining a majority of votes in favor of a change. An HOA's Articles of Incorporation, Bylaws, Declaration of Covenants and Restrictions spell out the powers, limits, as well as the obligations of the HOA. The HOA board is required to follow these legal guidelines without discrimination or neglect. Every owner, as a member of the association, is legally bound to conform to these rules.
- Ignorance of the Law Doesn't Fly. Most HOA's will first send a letter to you stating your violation of a community rule before sending notice of a fine. Claiming ignorance of the rule(s) isn't an adequate defense. When you signed the mortgage papers as an owner or the lease papers as a tenant, the rules were made available to you. The HOA has legal authority to apply fines for each violation, and in many cases to escalate the fine if you remain non-compliant.
- Pay Your Dues. Even if you deeply dislike the rules and/or think they are too strict and unfair, don't shoot yourself in the foot and refuse to pay your legally required dues on time and in the full amount. If you break the law because you don't like the law, you will usually be the one faced with the short end of the stick.
- Ask for a Variance. If you want to do something different from the rules, politely ask the board for a variance. Be sure to do it in writing. Find as many ways to come as close to the existing rules as possible in your request. Attempt to make it as easy as possible for the HOA board to say yes.
- Discrimination. If you feel that the HOA tends to enforce a particular rule with you, but not with others, document it and then consult an attorney. It is illegal for the HOA or property managers to not apply all rules to all members equally.
- Illegal Rules. Sometimes an HOA rule is in violation of the Bylaws of the association. Remember, the board members are volunteers from you community. They are usually not attorneys. They will make mistakes. Share your concern with them, in writing. If you are still not satisfied with the result you will need to consult with an attorney who specializes in HOA law disputes.
- Consequences. If an owner or tenant decides to take the HOA to court, remember that if you lose many HOA's have the right to hold you responsible for all their legal fees. If you cannot pay for them, the HOA may be able to place a lien on your property. It is often far less expensive to abide by an existing HOA rule - making whatever changes are necessary at your own expense - than to go to court. There are, of course, exceptions to this, but carefully consider the whole picture before you act.
- Keep Your Info Current. I you own rental property in an HOA, be sure that the HOA has your current address and phone number. If your tenant is in violation, all their letters to you may not be forwarded. As a result, they may escalate their actions against you believing that you are simply refusing to comply. It is your responsibility to keep your contact information with the HOA current, not their responsibility to track you down. If they must find you, it will usually be after an attorney has placed a lien on your property.
Be a responsible owner/tenant. Stay informed. Consult experts when in doubt.