HOA Harassment Disputes
Serving You and The State of Florida
If you live in a home or condominium that is part of a subdivision or planned community, you may also be part of a neighborhood management program referred to as the homeowner association (HOA). This group is responsible for maintaining the appearance and functionality of the residential area, including groundskeeping, community utilities, housing design regulations, and parking.
While the HOA of some neighborhoods is minimal or requires few homeowner responsibilities, others may have strict policies that can be difficult to manage. Knowing how to approach disputes with your HOA effectively can preserve the comfort and peace of your residential living environment.
What Is A Homeowner Association (HOA)?
The HOA is a membership organization that resides over a particular area or neighborhood. By purchasing a home within a homeowner association’s jurisdiction, you become an automatic member and will be required to pay applicable dues. Often, the residential community members manage the HOA rules and regulations rather than an outside third party. Depending on the neighborhood, the HOA can have more influence over your home than it might in another.
A homeowner’s association can maintain regulatory oversight of:
- Trash management
- Exterior storage
- Home décor
- Design changes
Depending on the community, your HOA may have specific restrictions or requirements that dictate how high your fence can be, what color your house can be painted, and even what kinds of renovations you can make to your home. Non-compliant homeowners may be subject to fines.
What Are The Benefits Of An HOA?
Despite the potential list of restrictions, there are many benefits to living in an area with a homeowners association, including:
Residential areas that a homeowner association governs often have access to amenities, including playgrounds, swimming pools, communal fire pits or barbecue areas, parks, rental space for events, or exercise equipment. The fees associated with your HOA membership provide financial support for the maintenance of these shared spaces.
Maintenance And Landscaping
Whereas many homeowners are left to their own devices to manage lawn care and home maintenance, residents who are part of a homeowner association may benefit from the professional partnerships formed between the HOA and contracted service providers.
While these providers would be responsible for maintaining communal areas, they may be a resource for homeowners needing assistance with individual maintenance needs. Additionally, some HOAs provide complimentary lawn care to ensure a consistent look throughout the neighborhood.
Stable Property Values
Home values can often change as families move in and out of the surrounding properties. Depending on how well your neighbors maintain their property, your home can either see a progressive increase or detrimental decrease in value due to the neighborhood’s overall change in quality. With HOA rules and regulations in place, there is a minimized risk of reductions in the neighborhood’s quality and, therefore, individual home values.
Sense Of Community
Residential areas that are governed by a homeowner association are often more welcoming and engaging than a typical suburb. Communal areas make it possible to mingle with neighbors in a shared space, and planning committees will sometimes plan neighborhood events to foster a sense of community.
Settling Neighbor Disputes
With a homeowner association, navigating disagreements between neighbors can be easier for both parties. Whether a neighbor hosts loud parties or starts to give less attention to their landscaping and lawn care, you can often contact the HOA to address the issues. If meditation is necessary, the homeowner association can serve as an impartial third party to help find a solution.
Being part of a homeowner association has certain benefits and privileges, including quality amenities and a more predictable living environment. However, understanding the complexities of a community-governed residential area can be critical in making the most of your membership and ensuring your rights as an independent homeowner.
How Is A Homeowner Association Governed?
While each HOA may be governed differently, most are run by a board of directors or governors who are elected by the community to oversee the regulations. This group is responsible for maintaining and enforcing the document that is most often called a Declaration of Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions (CC&Rs). This document describes any and all restrictions or requirements of homeowners living within the community.
What Are My Rights As A Homeowner?
As with any residential living area, homeowners and renters alike are entitled to certain rights, including the right to quiet enjoyment, the right of possession of the legally obtained property, and the right of disposition. Homeowners that are part of a community regulated by a homeowner association should also be aware of additional rights in the case of an HOA dispute. Should the HOA file a wrongful complaint against you or withhold community information, it is essential that you understand how to navigate the disagreement and when to seek legal support.
Florida Statutes require homeowner associations to disclose specific information to members and uphold certain member rights. Homeowners generally have a right to:
Request HOA documentation
This may include financial reports, governing documents, vendor contracts, board meeting agendas and meeting minutes, membership lists, tax returns, and more. As a paying or investing member of the homeowner association, you are privy to most proceedings and decisions made on your behalf. However, there may be an exception concerning disciplinary action documentation or executive minutes, depending on the jurisdiction. To request documentation:
- Review your HOA bylaws for instructions on how to submit a request
- Submit the request in writing or by certified mail
- The HOA has ten business days to fulfill the request and provide documentation
Documentation must be made available within 45 miles of the development or within the same county. A homeowner association does not have the right to request a reason for the inspection of documentation. If a board member or HOA leadership position denies your request or does not provide documentation within ten business days, contact a skilled attorney as you may be entitled to damages.
Question HOA fees and challenge sudden increases
Most homeowner associations charge a standard fee for community upkeep and membership maintenance. However, it is not uncommon for a sudden increase in dues to appear on your bill. When this happens, you have the right to question the fee and request a record of how the additional funding will be utilized. If you fail to pay the increase in dues, the HOA has the right to place a lien against your home or file for foreclosure.
Attend board meetings
As a homeowner association member, you have the right to attend all board meetings and speak in reference to designated agenda items. Board meetings must be in an accessible location, and the HOA should announce meeting times publicly so that each member of the community has the opportunity to attend. For those who are unable to participate in the meeting, minutes should be recorded for each meeting and distributed to interested parties. The board should keep these minutes for a minimum of seven years.
Fair disciplinary hearings
When a homeowner is non-compliant with HOA regulations, the homeowner association can approach the problem by issuing fees or a suspension of certain privileges. However, prior to any disciplinary actions by the HOA, members are entitled to a fair hearing in which they can defend their decisions. Even if a homeowner has clearly violated HOA policies, they should be notified of the hearing via written notice and have an opportunity to defend their case.
The Fair Housing Act mandates that all residents, particularly those with disabilities, maintain the right to reasonable accommodations. Fair Houstin Act compliance means that the homeowner association may be required to install ramps in communal areas or permit service animals into pet-restricted spaces.
Freedom from discrimination
An HOA cannot deny housing or enforce rules based on discriminatory practices. The Fair Housing Act protects individuals from discrimination based on skin color, religion, familial status, race, disability, gender, age, and sexual orientation. If you feel as though you are a victim of discrimination by your HOA, consult with a skilled attorney.
Sue HOA board members
If disagreements persist and board members of the HOA file other disputes against you or begin to use harassment to persuade behavioral changes, you may be entitled to damages. As a member of the residential community and a paying member of the homeowner association, you maintain the right to sue if legal action is deemed a necessary next step. Consult with a lawyer to determine whether this is the right path for you.
How Should I Respond To HOA Harassment?
If you are experiencing harassment from your homeowner association, including verbal threats, physical aggression, or clear cases of discrimination, there are several approaches you can take:
- Document your grievances in writing: Send a letter to the homeowner or board member indicating the ways in which they have violated the HOA’s rules and regulations. Include an explanation of their problematic behavior and provide a suggested resolution.
- Consider bringing in HOA mediation: When conflict becomes serious between members of the community, the homeowner association may request a mediator to help resolve the issue. Together, you should be able to work out a reasonable solution to meet the needs of all parties.
- Issue a restraining order: If a written notice fails to influence a change in behavior, you might consider filing a restraining order to minimize physical or verbal assaults. This action requires evidence of a repetitive pattern of intimidation or harassment from the offending individual.
- Contact local authorities: If necessary, involve local police to respond to any physical assaults or breaches of the restraining order.
The Lopez Law Group are experienced attorney’s in Florida who can help you if you are experiencing issues with your HOA. Contact us for information about documenting and responding to harassment by your HOA.
What To Look For In Your Homeowner Association Contract
Buying a home in a residential community that is governed by an HOA can have its benefits. However, it would help if you were cautious in reviewing HOA rules and regulations prior to moving in. Make sure that you understand the specific policies and inquire about sanctions. Ask questions about how the association approaches residential conflicts and their process for amending HOA rules. Additionally, pay attention to whether the HOA is empowered to fine or sue residents for non-compliance or foreclose on residential properties for nonpayment.
When looking for a home within an HOA jurisdiction, research any past or pending lawsuits to evaluate the reputation of the association. If possible, ask current residents how they feel about their current HOA board members and the overall experience of living in the neighborhood.
Approaching HOA Disputes
An experienced attorney can provide guidance before, during, and after you move in. By evaluating the specifications of your HOA contract prior to purchasing your home, you are more likely to identify potential discrepancies and understand the requirements of your residential community. If a dispute occurs and you need legal support, your attorney can help to mitigate and provide strategies for reaching a viable resolution.
Contact the Lopez Law Group for a consultation about any dispute with you HOA. We can also offer a comprehensive review of the covenants to ensure you are protected from potential actions taken by the HOA against you or your property.
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