Retaining the services of an attorney is important for every homeowners association. Many aspects of the community’s management are dictated by the association governing documents and federal, state, and local laws must be followed. Having a good attorney who specializes in community associations can assist in ensuring compliance and in turn, preventing lawsuits. Attorneys can also aid in everything from amending CC&Rs to collections, and also provide legal representation should the HOA need it.
Why HOA attorneys are important
Retaining the services of an attorney is beneficial to homeowners associations in many ways. As legal corporations, community associations are bound by their governing documents and federal, state, and local laws. These governing documents may be difficult to understand and lawyers can assist with more difficult terms, as well as assisting in interpretation. For instance, an attorney could help a condominium association determine the maintenance responsibilities of the association, and those of the individual unit owners. A law firm can also help with making changes to the governing documents to modify everything from architectural guidelines to increasing the number of board members.
Unfortunately for many community associations, there are always homeowners who do not pay their assessments. The collections process can be handled by an attorney at the direction of the board of directors, staying within the parameters of the governing documents.
The HOA’s governing documents also list the fiduciary responsibilities of the board of directors. If a board is found to not be upholding these responsibilities or acting neglectfully, homeowners within the association may take legal action. The board of directors would then need legal representation, and in many cases a lawyer they have already retained will be able to assist.
How to find an HOA attorney
Finding an attorney who specializes in community associations may prove difficult as it is not a very popular specialty, nor is it one that is usually categorized on law firm directories. If your association utilizes a management firm, they will most likely have a relationship with one or more law firms in the area and be able to give a recommendation. Another good place to look is the service directory of your local chapter of the Community Associations Institute (CAI). All of the lawyers listed will be a member of the organization and have experience in community association law. Word of mouth is also a great way to find an experienced lawyer. Talk with friends and family members who have served on the Boards of other local HOAs as they may have had good experiences with a particular firm.
If there aren’t any HOA law firms in your area or you’re unable to find an attorney in these manners, there are two types of attorneys that can be of assistance. Many board members think they need to select an attorney who specializes in real estate law, however real estate law pertains to home ownership and disputes, not necessarily the same matters an HOA deals with. HOA governing documents function more as contracts, an attorney who specializes in business or contractual law is a better option for matters involving governing documents.
By retaining an attorney, homeowners associations not only protect themselves, but all of their members now and in the future.