Defender Blog: Dealing with your homeowners association
HOAs possess many powers over homeowners
SAN ANTONIO - You're sitting in a little office at the title company and you're so excited!
You're buying a home and are signing that huge pile of papers in front of you.
It's all just a formality, they tell you, and you're so excited about getting into that home that you plow right through that stack of papers so you can get the keys as quickly as possible.
But there's one little paper in there you should pay particular attention to.
If the home you're buying is in a neighborhood with a Homeowners Association (HOA), you're required to sign a paper where you agree to become a member of that association and be bound by its rules.
That's no small agreement, but if you don't sign, you don't get the house.
HOAs were conceived by homeowners who worried about their property values going down, thanks to a neighbor whose house is less than desirable.
The HOA would then be able to make rules that force unruly homeowners to clean up their landscapes.
It keeps people from painting their homes bright pink or erecting razor wire fences.
But many homeowners get in disputes with their HOAs over rules that they feel are too restrictive.
And indeed the Texas legislature enacted several provisions this last session that give more power to the people and rein in the power of HOAs in several regards.
Still, the HOA board has much authority.
But, there are proper ways to dispute a disagreement with your HOA - and then there are wrong ways to do so.
First, never withhold dues during a dispute.
The HOA has the right not to deal with members who are not in good standing. You always want to be current in your dues when disputing anything.
Second, go through the proper channels, in the right order.
If the HOA's Architectural Control Committee, for instance, has turned down your plans for a fountain in your front yard and you disagree with their decision, appeal it first to the ACC.
If your appeal is denied there and you still feel you are in the right, then you can appeal to the Board of Directors.
And in this scenario you would also want evidence that would prove your case on hand, such as documents that describe what yard objects are acceptable and even photos of similar fountains already in place in the neighborhood.
You may also want to become familiar with your neighborhood's covenants. That's a set of rules that was established when the neighborhood was first being built which governs how the HOA will operate. You may find some information in the covenants (usually a lengthy, lawyer-written document) that can help you in your dispute.
If your appeal is denied by the board your next recourse, should you choose it, might be to go to fellow homeowners with a petition.
You could even ask that the question be put on the next members meeting ballot to be voted on by the community.
Or you could run for a board seat yourself and try to change from within.
Or take the HOA to court.
But just remember that fighting your HOA in court takes money out of your pocket in two ways: you have to pay your lawyer to fight the dispute and your HOA is paying a lawyer to oppose you, using your funds and those of other homeowners as well.
And remember that if you're fighting the HOA and you're violating rules that you agreed to abide by, it's an uphill fight.
If you feel like you have a valid case and that the rules are wrong or are being wrongly enforced, keep documentation of all kinds that you are legitimately opposing this rule in ways recognized as proper by the HOA.
The bottom line in fighting HOAs is to do your homework, know the rules, be a member in good standing and prepare for a long battle.
In the end, if HOA fees are levied for your noncompliance and attorneys fees are added to that, the HOA can legally hold your home hostage until they're paid.
Don't let that happen.
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