By Deborah Goonan
Rules and Restrictive Covenants (Deed Restrictions) are key features of Association-governed “communities” such as Homeowners and Condominium Associations and Cooperatives. All civilized communities benefit from basic rules to ensure a safe and healthy environment, and to prevent excessive noise and nuisances. For example, you will find that most cities, towns, and counties have various ordinances and residential zoning laws intended to prevent one of your neighbors from accumulating trash in the yard, raising livestock, or using the garage as a commercial auto body shop. Ordinances concerning control of pets and restricting parking near fire hydrants are other typical examples, as well as zoning requirements for minimum distance a house can be situated from the street and neighboring homes.
But an HOA take rules one step further, seeking to control the visual appeal of the community. Typically, in a planned community, an Association will dictate the exterior appearance of your home, including paint colors, types of siding, window, door, and roof materials, and even choice of landscape plants. HOAs typically restrict placement of signs, yard ornaments, holiday decorations, play structures, fences, and just about anything that would be visible to anyone passing by. Condo associations tend to restrict window coverings (while-lined curtains or blinds only), potted plants at front entrances, objects allowed on the patio or balcony, and even decorations on the door to your unit from an interior hallway.
I like to refer to these as Keeping Uniform Appearances (KUA) Rules, because they only pertain to matters of aesthetic or visual appeal. Because KUA Rules are initially established by the Developer, and later modified by the HOA Board from time to time, they reflect the personal tastes and preferences of a few individuals that control the entire Association. Therefore, it is not surprising that KUA Rules are a common source of conflict in many HOAs.
Quite often, Management companies and HOA Attorneys encourage strict enforcement, including issuing fines or other draconian penalties for relatively minor offenses. Sometimes the local media picks up the story and the HOA Board backs down, but other times they dig in their heels and fight back even harder. In some cases, the homeowner refuses to pay the fines (or is unable to pay them), and then winds up delinquent in paying assessments, facing liens and even foreclosure threats from the HOA. In other cases, owners end up fighting their HOA battles in Civil Court, at great personal expense, as well as expense to the HOA. That’s because HOA Boards are authorized to use money collected from HOA assessments to fight legal battles.
The following links provide but a few of the outrageous examples of HOA Boards taking KUA Rule enforcement too far.
Rocklin Community Threatens to Fine Residents for Leaving Bikes in Front Yards (California)
Homeowner Told Flood Debris Violates HOA Rules (Texas)
Family Battles HOA Over Fence for Autistic Son (Florida)
Veteran May Lose Home Over Flag Fight (Florida)
Fairfax homeowners group humbled by court battle with residents (Virginia)
Buck County Woman Fined by Homeowner’s Association for Colored Christmas Lights (Pennsylvania)