Most, if not all, homeowners associations are legal entities. As such, both board members and homeowners are afforded legal rights — all of which should be clearly outlined in your community’s governing documents. If you need further guidance, here are the legal rights of homeowners who live in HOA-run communities.
In this article:
What Are the Legal Rights of Homeowners?
What are the homeowners rights against homeowners associations? As an HOA board member, here are 15 legal rights you need to know:
1. Homeowners Have a Bundle of Legal Rights
Anyone who purchases property is afforded a bundle of rights. The legal rights of property owners include:
- The Right of Possession: A person who holds the title of the property is the legal owner.
- The Right of Control: A homeowner has the right to use their property as they please — as long as it is legal. In an HOA, though, homeowners must still abide by community rules and regulations.
- The Right of Exclusion: A property owner can limit who enters their home — unless there is a warrant or court order. There are also easements for utility workers who need to access the property.
- The Right of Enjoyment: A homeowner has the right to participate in any activity they deem pleasurable — as long as it is legal.
- The Right of Disposition: A homeowner can transfer ownership of their property to another person. However, if there is a lien on the property, the new owner will have to pay it off.
2. Homeowners Have a Right to Change HOA Rules and Regulations
It is within homeowners’ legal rights to change the association’s rules and regulations. Homeowners can choose to take action if they deem certain rules as unfair, outdated, or discriminatory. The HOA board cannot stop them.
However, make sure to check the governing documents for the procedure for proposing new rules or amendments. For instance, a majority vote may be required in order to change rules or implement new ones. Also, board members should ensure that these new rules are still compliant with state and local laws.
3. Homeowners Can Question HOA Fees and Special Assessments
As members of the community, homeowners are required to pay assessment fees each month. But that doesn’t mean that they will just pay any amount that the HOA charges them. Homeowners have a right to question a sudden increase in monthly HOA fees or why the HOA is levying a special assessment. This can be a form of financial oversight and so that homeowners know where their money is being used.
Homeowners can take formal action, but they are still advised to continue paying their assessments. Keep in mind that the HOA board also has a right to place a lien on a delinquent homeowner’s property or even file for a foreclosure to collect unpaid assessments.
To prevent drastic actions from both the association and homeowner, the board must tread carefully when it comes to increasing HOA fees or levying special assessments. Depending on your governing documents, HOAs might need to give adequate notice to homeowners via certified mail. There may also be a limit on how much you can increase HOA fees each year.
Also, board members should properly communicate the reasons for an increase. They can provide documents to support these reasons, and reassure homeowners that this is for the benefit of the community.
4. Homeowners Have a Right to Access Financial Reports, HOA Documents
Board members cannot prohibit homeowners from requesting HOA documents including:
- Financial Reports
- Annual Budget Report
- Reserves Summary
- Vendor Contracts
- Board Meeting Agendas and Minutes
- HOA Membership Lists
- HOA Tax Returns
- Governing Documents
- HOA Rule Changes or Amendments
- Plans for Capital Improvement Projects
Homeowners have a right to inspect these documents to see how the board is managing the community’s finances and assets. Access to budgets, expenditures, transactions will allow homeowners to see how their money is being used.
In some cases, though, homeowners may first need to submit a written notice, as well as pay for copying and postage costs. HOA boards may refuse access to documents that are bound by attorney-client privilege and those with pending litigation.
5. Homeowners Have a Right to Disciplinary Hearings
A homeowner has a right to a hearing before the HOA takes disciplinary action, such as imposing fines or suspension of privileges. The board must send a written notice ahead of the hearing via first class mail. Homeowners also have the right to a fair hearing even if they have clearly violated the association’s rules.
6. Homeowners Can Sue Board Members
One can always use their homeowners rights against HOAs. This means that a homeowner can choose to sue a board member due to disputes or perceived wrongdoings such as exceeding the limits of their authority or making unfair decisions. It even means that they can sue board members for bad decisions.
In the case of the latter, board members can take comfort in certain things. For instance, the Business Judgement Rule will protect them from personal liability as long as their actions were in the best interest of the community. The association’s D&O insurance will also cover your legal expenses. However, to prevent costly legal expenses for both parties, the board can recommend negotiation and mediation instead.
7. Homeowners Have a Right to Display the U.S. Flag
The HOA cannot prevent homeowners from displaying the American flag — even if they cite architectural control reasons.
Homeowners are protected by the Freedom to Display the American Flag Act of 2005 and this supersedes any rule that you may have in your governing documents. However, HOAs can impose restrictions such as the location and height of the flagpole. Residents may also need to file a request before installing the flagpole on their property.
8. Homeowners Can Display Political Signs*
Homeowners’ right to display political signs will depend on which state your HOA is located. States like Texas and Washington prohibit HOAs from imposing bans on political signs whereas, in states like Virginia and the District of Columbia, no such laws exist.
In most cases, though, HOAs can still impose some restrictions such as limiting the number and size of political signs, as well as how long homeowners can display them on their property.
9. Homeowners with Disabilities Have a Right to Reasonable Accommodations
According to the Fair Housing Act, homeowners with disabilities have a right to request reasonable accommodations. This can be in the form of a ramp so that homeowners who use wheelchairs can gain access to communal areas. Homeowners can also request for their service animal to accompany them even in pet-restricted areas within the community.
HOA boards have to meet these accommodations as long as there are no other viable alternatives, and as long as these do not pose any risk to the other homeowners. In certain situations, such as in the case of service animals, HOA boards can request homeowners for documentation to verify.
10. Homeowners Can Have Solar Installations and Satellite Dishes on Their Roof
Previously, associations banned homeowners from placing solar installations, antennas, and satellite dishes on their roofs. Boards reasoned that such devices affected the uniform exterior appearance of the community and as such, lowered property values.
With the passing of the FCC’s Over-the-Air Reception Devices Rule, though, HOA boards can no longer restrict homeowners from doing so. Homeowners have a right to place solar panels, antennas, and satellite dishes on their roof (as long as the device is under a meter). However, boards may be able to place some restrictions such as the placement of these devices.
11. Homeowners Have a Right to Solar Drying
Many HOAs prohibit solar drying — or using a clothesline to dry clothes outside — because it looks unsightly and affects the uniform exterior appearance of the community. If your community is located in a state with a Right to Dry law, though, the board cannot ban solar drying in their community. These states include:
- New Mexico
- North Carolina
How to Handle the Legal Rights of Homeowners
Apart from these 11 legal rights of homeowners, there may be many more for HOA boards to consider. Though the actual number may seem daunting, HOA board members must always try to keep track of these legal rights. In order to properly handle the legal rights of homeowners, here are three simple but important reminders:
1. HOA board members must take time to read and fully understand the community’s governing documents (CC&Rs, bylaws, HOA rules, and regulations).
2. HOA board members should be updated on state and local laws. If there are any changes, you must amend governing documents as quickly as possible.
3. HOA disputes and misunderstandings can lead to expensive legal proceedings if not addressed in a timely manner. For the sake of both parties, HOA board members should take time to communicate with homeowners in a professional but cordial manner.
Why HOAs Need to Respect the Legal Rights of Homeowners
Respecting the legal rights of homeowners isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s also one of the best ways to protect the wellbeing of your community. In the same way that HOA board members have protection from personal liability, homeowners also have legal rights as members of the community. If everyone is respectful of each other, you will be able to have a peaceful and thriving community.
- Which HOA Documents Take Precedence Over the Others?
- Can Homeowners Change Rules In Your HOA?
- HOA Attorneys – Why They Are Important and How To Find One