By Ryan McNeill, Attorney at Law
If you serve on the Board of your Homeowner’s Association, you may quickly find out how much you need to learn! In addition to the Covenant’s and Bylaws that govern your HOA, there are other local, state and federal laws and regulations that can come into play.
As long as all homeowners abide by the rules and pay their dues on time, being on the Board can be relatively simple. Unfortunately, many homeowners don’t read (or perhaps understand) these thick documents and others ignore them. Evenly and fairly enforcing the Covenants and Bylaws for the benefit of the Association members (the homeowners) as a whole becomes the responsibility of the Board.
Many issues that come up have very specific guidelines the Board must follow. For example, the Smith’s lawn is overgrown and tangled with weeds. The Covenants state that lawns must be kept in neatly trimmed and free of weeds. The Board’s response (generally handled by a property management company) is to send a letter to the homeowner giving them a set period of time to rectify the situation. If the homeowner fails to fix the problem, the Board is able to take the next step of holding a hearing. If the situation remains unresolved, the Board may then permitted to hire a third-party to mow and treat the lawn and charge the homeowner. [The actual steps to resolve the issue will depend on the governing documents and applicable laws in your area.]
But what happens when the situation is not as clear cut? Here are some common examples where you might want to engage an attorney at the beginning so the appropriate response is made:
- A homeowner is past due and legal action is required to collect the monies owed. The laws governing an HOA’s ability to collect this debt have become much stricter over the past several years. You want to be certain you follow the letter of the law.
- The current governing documents need to be revised. In some cases, the existing documents require actions that don’t make sense anymore or are hard to enforce. For example, some older documents require an annual audit by a CPA; this can be cost-prohibitive. In addition, HOAs are often incorporated for a specific period of time (25 years, for example). When that time period ends, if the homeowners wish to continue the HOA, they will need to take the appropriate steps to do so.
- Finally, if your Association is sued – even if the lawsuit appears frivolous – you should hire an attorney. Likewise, if you become aware the HOA will be named in a pending lawsuit, speak with legal counsel.
The laws governing Associations change on a regular basis. If there is any question at all about the Association’s responsibilities or liabilities under the law, it’s a good idea to reach out to an attorney with experience handling HOA law.