A volunteer board member strives to do their best by the community as a whole and for individual homeowners, and doing so successfully involves understanding the rights of HOA members, both those outlined in the governing documents of the community and those included in state and federal law.
This can be easier said than done, however. Because HOA laws vary by state and each association has its own unique governing documents, homeowners’ specific rights will vary depending on where their HOA is located and what its governing documents say.
So, to help board members correctly identify and protect association members’ rights, let’s go over the kinds of rights HOA members have and how these right may vary by state and association.
We’ll start with voting rights. As members of the association, homeowners have the right to vote on membership business either during membership meetings or outside of membership meetings by mail or through online voting platforms. HOA members typically have the right and responsibility to vote for the election or removal of board members.
Depending on state law and the association’s governing documents, homeowners may also have the right to vote to amend the governing documents, adopt new HOA rules or modify existing ones, increase the budget, increase regular assessments, levy a special assessment, dissolve the association, or make other decisions. Rules like these keep HOA governance democratic!
Board Nomination Rights
Another typical homeowner right that helps keep the HOA democratic is a homeowner’s right to run for the board of directors; however, this right may be limited by state statute or restrictions in the governing documents.
For instance, homeowners generally don’t elect board members during the development period; instead, the developer will choose them. Additionally, homeowners with delinquent assessments or a felony conviction may be barred from serving on the board.
Because these limitations can vary, it is wise to review an association’s governing documents and state law to determine who can run for the board and how.
Rights Related to HOA Meetings
HOA meeting rights is another category of homeowner rights that can become somewhat complicated, so let’s cover some highlights.
First, HOA homeowners generally have a right to receive notice of and attend open board meetings, along with their right to receive notice of and attend membership meetings. Homeowners may also have a right to receive notice of executive board meetings even though they are not permitted to attend these meetings.
Secondly, depending on state law, homeowners may have a right to comment on board business during board meetings even though they cannot vote on matters during board meetings. Of course, homeowners do have a right to discuss and vote on homeowner business at membership meetings.
Lastly, if the board does not call the annual membership meeting, a percentage of the membership may be able to call the meeting themselves. An association’s governing documents will detail the methods that may be used to call an annual meeting.
Rights Related to HOA Rule Changes
Homeowners generally have a right to be notified when HOA rules are created or changed by the board, and some rule changes may require a membership vote. This is another reason why it’s a best practice to be transparent with homeowners and communicate with the membership frequently.
Rights Related to Assessments
Homeowners work just as hard to budget for their household as the board works to budget for the association.
On top of the board displaying common courtesy and respect to homeowners by providing notice of assessment changes, HOA members have a right to know when assessment rates are changed and why. If a special assessment is going to be collected, homeowners should be told why it is needed.
Some assessment rate changes and special assessments may require a homeowner vote, and some HOA governing documents limit how much an HOA board can raise assessment rates during a given time span.
Rights Related to CC&Rs Enforcement
Homeowners have a right to consistent and fair covenant enforcement, and this is a big responsibility for any board! Community associations must treat all homeowners fairly and equally, which means citing violations consistently, approving requests that comply with the CC&Rs and denying ones that don’t in a timely manner, and granting variances when needed. Community management companies can provide indispensable support with these duties!
HOAs should be particularly aware of what is required of them under the Fair Housing Act, which protects homeowners from discrimination, such as discrimination based on religion, race, or a disability. For example, even if an item is not permitted under the association’s covenants, homeowners with disabilities must be allowed to have necessary accommodations, such as wheelchair ramps and service animals.
For another example, an HOA couldn’t enforce a rule that disallowed certain religious holiday decorations but allowed others.
Lastly, it is important to note that homeowners typically have the right to request a hearing concerning violation notices and/or fines they receive from the HOA. The procedure for requesting a hearing and for responding to such a request varies by state.
Homeowners may also have the right to request an appeal if they do not agree with a decision the board has made about their account.
Rights Related to HOA Records
Homeowners generally have the legal right to review the HOA’s records, which can include meeting minutes, budgets, financial documents, and reserve studies, along with other such documents. Typically, the only association documents homeowners can’t request for review are confidential, such as those dealing with litigation that are under review with the HOA attorney.
Such laws typically outline the process the homeowner needs to follow to make a records request and the timeframe in which the HOA must comply with the request. However, some states do allow the HOA to charge the homeowner for any printing or copying costs related to providing the documents requested for review.
Rights Related to Property Use
There are various state and federal laws that protect certain ways homeowners can use their properties, even if these uses go against rules in the HOA’s governing documents. Laws can vary greatly between different states, so it’s always a good idea to review the ones that apply to a particular association before taking any enforcement actions.
An HOA board can also build rapport with its membership by notifying homeowners of the various property use protections that apply to the community. That way, no one is left guessing!
To give an idea of what these laws might cover, here are some rights that may be protected by state law:
- the right to dry clothes on clotheslines,
- the right to have solar panels,
- the right to display political signs,
- the right to display various types of flags identified by statute,
- the right to have drought-resistant landscaping, and
- the right to have rain collection devices.
Examples of homeowner rights protected by federal law include:
- the right to have a video antenna, and
- the right to display the American flag.
We hope this summary proves useful in helping you run a fair and mindful association. If you would like to learn more about HOAs, check out our Boardline Academy’s online training courses.