According to Bankrate.com, one out of every five Americans live under the rules and regulations set forth by Homeowners Associations (HOAs). HOA’s were first established in the 1960’s to address the increased demand for affordable housing. With that demand needing to be met, developers moved to build more homes on less land to keep home prices down. This led to committees being formed by private homeowners, with help from property managers and legal counsel, to control and preserve architectural qualities in housing developments all over the country.
So what happens if a homeowner just simply ignores the Covenants, Conditions, & Restrictions (CC&Rs) agreed upon when the property was purchased? For example, what if a homeowner decided not to mow the lawn anymore. Whether it’s not mowing the grass in Franklin, Tennessee, or not cutting the grass in Alpharetta, Georgia, what power does the HOA hold?
What are your rights as a homeowner if you are battling your HOA about your lawn?
Since every planned development has a number of rules and regulations in the CC&Rs, the HOA’s are responsible for enforcing and penalizing these rules. The specific jargon mentioned in the CC&R’s defines who will take on the enforcement role and how far the association is willing to go to keep these directives in order.
Many developments give the HOA more enforcement rights than others. Below are a few actions HOA’s may legally able to enforce.
Foreclose on Property—Many HOA’s have the power to evict any individuals who fail to pay dues or adhere to the neighborhood rules—including mowing the grass. This is a very drastic measure, but the authority of this governing body will enforce uniformity outlined under the policy.
Fine Homeowner—More typically, HOA’s are able to fine any homeowner for violating a covenant, rule, or regulation. For example, if the CC&R’s clearly state that the grass needs to be below six inches at all times, the homeowner can be fined on a daily basis until the lawn has been mowed. What if these fines are not paid? These unpaid fees will be assessed with late fees and the HOA can then file a lien on the property. If the property is ever sold, the lien and any other fees will be deducted before any monies are paid out to the homeowner.
Suspend Homeowner’s Rights—Common areas such as the pool, gym, or dog park may be areas of denied access if the rules are broken. Until the homeowner pays the fines, fees, or fixes the issue, these rights could be stripped by the HOA.
Prosecute Homeowner—HOA’s have the power to sue a homeowner who violates any restriction, covenant, or rule. The homeowner could end up in court for not keeping the grass to a certain length. This normally happens after fines have not been paid and HOA demands have not been met.
Remedy the Situation—HOA’s, in some instances, have the power to enter the homeowner’s property to resolve the infraction. For instance, the HOA can hire a company to mow the lawn of the delinquent homeowner. This is not a luxury as the pricing for this “hired” service tends to be five times what normal lawn care would be especially if the grass is too tall.
All HOA’s have procedures they must follow before any action can be taken on a homeowner. Depending of the degree of severity—minor infractions, retrieving trash receptacles from the street vs. erecting an unauthorized fencing—violations may need to be taken to the Board of Directors meeting (typically annually or biannually) before any disciplinary action is taken. Also, the HOA must provide several written warnings to a homeowner and give ample time to remedy the violation before any of the actions listed above occur. More times than not, the HOA will try to resolve any issue amicably.
Fifty-five million Americans live in developments governed by HOA’s; these associations typically have the best interest of the homeowner in mind, namely, protecting property values for all homeowners. As a homeowner, following the guidelines and not breaking the agreed upon rules when the property was purchased in the development is no only ethical course of action, but a beneficial one as well. In other words, keep that grass mowed and tidy and move on with the more important things in life.