Homeowner Associations (HOAs) are common in many neighborhoods, and they play a crucial role in maintaining property values, community aesthetics, and resolving disputes. While HOAs offer numerous benefits, they also come with certain obligations and restrictions that may not be appealing to everyone. In this article, we will delve into the legality of “Can you refuse to join a homeowners association?” and the regulations that govern them. We will also explore the relationship between local laws and HOA rules.

Who regulates HOAs?

Can you refuse to join a homeowners associationHomeowner Associations are subject to regulation and oversight at both the federal and state levels. However, the primary regulation of HOAs occurs at the state level. State laws govern the formation, operation, and dissolution of HOAs, and these laws can vary significantly from one state to another. Therefore, the rules and regulations regarding HOAs are largely dependent on your state of residence.

The most important state-level regulations often cover issues such as the establishment of HOAs, their governing documents, financial matters, meetings, elections, and dispute resolution. While states have general laws that apply to all HOAs, they may also have specific legislation related to certain types of associations, such as condominium associations or master-planned communities.

In addition to state regulations, there may be federal laws that come into play when dealing with HOAs, particularly in cases related to discrimination or fair housing. The Fair Housing Act, for example, prohibits discrimination in housing based on factors such as race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability, and familial status. HOAs must adhere to these federal anti-discrimination laws and ensure they do not engage in any discriminatory practices when reviewing potential members.

Can you refuse to join a homeowners association?

The ability to refuse to join a homeowner association (HOA) depends on several factors, including the type of HOA, the governing documents, and local laws. Here's a general overview:
  1. Mandatory HOAs: Mandatory HOAs are the most common type of HOA. They are typically established when a new housing development or community is built. In many cases, if you purchase a property within a community governed by a mandatory HOA, you are legally obligated to join the association and abide by its rules and regulations. This obligation is often established through the property's deeds, covenants, conditions, and restrictions (CC&Rs), or other legally binding documents. Refusing to join or comply with the HOA's rules can result in consequences outlined in the CC&Rs, such as fines or legal actions.
  2. Voluntary HOAs: Voluntary HOAs, as the name suggests, are optional, and homeowners are not required to join. If you live in a community with a voluntary HOA, you can choose whether or not to become a member. Joining such an HOA is typically based on your willingness to abide by the association's rules and contribute to any associated fees or dues.
  3. Legal Challenges: In certain situations, homeowners may attempt to challenge the legality of a mandatory HOA or specific provisions within the governing documents, such as the CC&Rs. Legal challenges can be complex and may involve disputing the enforcement of specific rules, but success is not guaranteed, and legal action can be costly.
  4. Change in HOA status: Homeowners in a mandatory HOA community may, in rare instances, explore the possibility of changing the community's HOA status from mandatory to voluntary. This process often requires a legal and democratic decision-making process within the community, such as amending the governing documents, and typically involves a significant majority vote among property owners.
  5. Local and state laws: The specific laws and regulations regarding HOAs can vary by state, and local ordinances may also come into play. These laws can influence whether an HOA is mandatory or voluntary, as well as the legal rights and obligations of homeowners.
Before purchasing a property in a community governed by an HOA, it's essential to carefully review the governing documents, such as the CC&Rs and bylaws, to understand the rules and requirements. Additionally, consulting with an attorney who specializes in real estate and HOA matters can provide valuable insights and guidance regarding your rights and responsibilities as a homeowner within such a community.

Keep in mind that refusing to join or comply with a mandatory HOA can lead to legal and financial consequences, so it's crucial to be well-informed about your obligations and rights within the association.

How are mandatory HOAs legal?

The legality of mandatory HOAs is established through various legal mechanisms:
  1. Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions (CC&Rs): When a new development is planned, the developer drafts CC&Rs that outline the rules and regulations for the community. These CC&Rs are recorded in public records and legally bind all homeowners in the community. By purchasing a property within the community, homeowners agree to abide by these rules.
  2. Deed Restrictions: Deed restrictions are incorporated into the property's title and are legally enforceable. When a property changes hands, the new owner is subject to the same restrictions, effectively making the HOA mandatory for all property owners.
  3. State Legislation: Many states have legislation that specifically enables the creation of mandatory HOAs for the purpose of managing common areas, amenities, and enforcing community standards.
  4. Developer Control: During the initial phases of a development, the developer typically controls the HOA until a certain percentage of properties are sold. Once that threshold is reached, the homeowners assume control of the HOA.
It's important to understand that when you purchase a property within a community governed by a mandatory HOA, you are essentially entering into a legally binding contract to abide by the association's rules and regulations. Failure to do so can result in fines, legal action, or other consequences outlined in the CC&Rs.

Does local law supersede HOA rules?

In most cases, local laws do not supersede HOA rules. HOAs are private organizations with the authority to create and enforce their own regulations within the boundaries of the law. However, there are specific situations where local laws can take precedence over HOA rules:
  1. Federal and state laws: As mentioned earlier, federal and state laws supersede HOA rules. HOAs must operate within the boundaries of these laws, which include anti-discrimination laws, property rights, and other regulations that protect homeowners.
  2. Zoning Regulations: Local zoning and land use regulations set by city or county governments can influence what homeowners can and cannot do with their properties. These regulations are often beyond the control of the HOA and can affect aspects such as property use, building height, and landscaping.
  3. Public safety and building codes: HOA rules cannot override public safety and building codes established by local government authorities. Homeowners must comply with these codes to ensure the safety and well-being of the community.
  4. Eminent Domain: If a government entity exercises eminent domain to acquire property within an HOA, the HOA's rules cannot prevent the takeover. However, the HOA may be entitled to compensation for the loss.
It's essential for homeowners to understand the interplay between local laws and HOA rules. Generally, homeowners must comply with both, but if there is a conflict, local laws will take precedence.

Joining a homeowner association is often a requirement when purchasing a property in a community governed by one. The legality of mandatory HOAs is rooted in state laws, covenants, conditions, and restrictions. While local laws can influence various aspects of homeownership, they typically do not supersede HOA rules, except in specific circumstances where public safety or property rights are at stake. Understanding the balance between HOA regulations, local laws, and your rights as a homeowner is essential for a harmonious and compliant living experience within your community.

To learn more about how a professional management company like FirstService Residential can support your homeowner association, contact a member of our team.
Friday October 20, 2023