Living in a neighborhood with a homeowners association, commonly known as an HOA, comes with pros and cons. Being part of an HOA means living with a set of covenants, conditions, and restrictions (CC&Rs). Every association has its own set of CC&Rs unique to its specific neighborhood. They can include rules about items such as exterior maintenance, parking, and common area usage. Some of the other typical areas a homeowners association may regulate are:

  • Pets
  • Singles, siding, and exterior paint
  • Fences, shrubs, and hedges
  • Landscaping
  • Swing sets, basketball hoops, and other play structures
  • Mailboxes
  • Noise
  • Tool sheds and other outbuildings
  • Home-based businesses

For instance, your HOA can enact a rule that says your grass must be less than five inches tall at all times, and they can fine you if you don’t obey that rule. But there are certain rules HOAs are not allowed to put forth or enforce. Let’s look at just a few of the things your HOA can’t do.

They can’t fine you without reason.

Your HOA can’t just fine you on a whim. If you get a letter saying that you have to trim your bushes by a certain date or pay a fine, it had better be a fineable offense covered in the CCRs. They can’t just decide the huge century plant in your front yard is ugly and threaten you with a fine if you refuse to uproot it. Unless there is a specific restriction in your CC&Rs that says century plants aren’t allowed in front yards, they absolutely cannot force you to pay a fine.

They can’t discriminate.

Each and every HOA must be in compliance with the Fair Housing Act. They have to be very careful when it comes to enacting and enforcing certain rules that might single out or disadvantage any of the groups identified in the Fair Housing Act. As an obvious example, your HOA can’t fine you or keep you from buying a home because of ethnicity or race. They also can’t kick you out because of your parental status, your religion, or your nationality.

They can’t make snap decisions.

So the new president of your neighborhood’s HOA hates yard ornaments. That doesn’t mean the president can suddenly make a rule that says all yard ornaments are now prohibited and must be removed at once. New rules must be introduced, voted on, and enacted properly as set forth in the CC&Rs. Rules can’t just be made up on the fly.

They can’t make you take down your satellite dish.

The FCC’s Over-the-Air Reception Devices Rule makes it illegal for your HOA to force you to take your satellite dish down, no matter how ugly they think it is. There could be a covenant against them in your CC&Rs leftover from the days before this federal rule, but rest assured that the law is on your side if you want your satellite dish.

They can’t act like they’re above the law.

Your neighborhood HOA is not the end-all, be-all that gets the final word on all things. If you have constant struggles with your HOA or feel that there’s some shady stuff going on, you have every right to bring an actual lawsuit against them.

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