Homeowners associations have broad authority to enforce rules in subdivision and condo buildings. Learn more about HOA enforcement powers in Texas.
If you are part of a homeowners association (HOA), you are subject to rules that may govern matters like what you can build on your property and how you can decorate your home. HOAs have the authority to enforce their rules through fines and other means.
What are homeowners’ associations and what do they do?
An HOA is an organization made up of all of the homeowners in a specific area, such as a subdivision or condominium building. Most HOAs in Texas are organized as nonprofit corporations.
The main purpose of an HOA is to preserve property values in the building, neighborhood, or community. They can perform numerous other functions, such as:
Managing shared spaces and amenities, such as parking lots or parking garages, lobbies, elevators, pools, fitness centers, and playgrounds
Maintaining a particular style or look for a subdivision or neighborhood
Limiting property uses, such as by restricting or prohibiting the use of homes as rental properties
Enforcing rules that prevent nuisances by homeowners and residents
What are covenants, conditions, and restrictions?
Covenants, conditions, and restrictions (CC&Rs) are the rules of an HOA community. They may govern almost anything affecting the community, as long as it is not illegal or wildly impractical. Examples of CC&Rs may include:
What color homeowners may paint their houses
What types of structures homeowners may build on their property, such as sheds, treehouses, or guest houses
Whether residents may lease or sublease their houses or units
When people may and may not park on streets within the community
The size and extent of holiday decorations homeowners may display
Guidelines and standards for front lawn maintenance, mailboxes, and other aspects of each home’s appearance
Prohibited activities, such as fireworks
» READ MORE: The Funniest HOA Rules We’ve Ever Seen
Photo by Gail Frederick from Flickr [Creative Commons]
How do homeowners’ associations enforce their rules?
An HOA’s bylaws give its board authority to enforce the CC&Rs using specific enforcement methods. Texas law sets limits on most forms of enforcement.
The first method most HOAs use to enforce their rules is to assess fines against homeowners. The HOA must give written notice to the homeowner by certified mail. If possible, the homeowner must have a reasonable period of time to correct the violation. The homeowner has the right to request a hearing before the board to dispute the alleged violation.
Since HOAs have the authority to charge fees or assessments to pay for maintenance and improvements, they can just add fines to a homeowner’s bill. They may use a third-party collections agency if the homeowner does not pay the fines.
Photo by Mehta12 from Flickr [Creative Commons]
HOAs may be able to use “self-help remedies” in some situations to address CC&R violations. For example, if a homeowner’s front yard is not in compliance with the CC&Rs after the HOA has sent notice of the violation, the HOA could hire landscapers to fix the problem and bill the cost to the homeowner.
An HOA can seek judicial enforcement in some cases. Courts can order homeowners to take certain actions required by the CC&Rs. They can assess up to $200 per day in civil damages if a homeowner does not follow the court’s order.
Texas law allows HOAs to file liens against homeowners for certain violations after giving written notice. HOAs most commonly do this in cases involving unpaid assessments.
An HOA may enforce a lien through a judicial foreclosure proceeding. This is different from non-judicial foreclosures involving mortgage defaults, which do not require a court order. Typically, an HOA must file a lawsuit and get approval from a judge in order to foreclose on a member’s home. An HOA’s governing documents could allow non-judicial foreclosure, but this is fairly rare.
Can homeowners make their HOA enforce its rules?
Some states allow homeowners to sue their own HOA when the HOA is not enforcing its rules. Texas generally views HOAs as political in nature. In other words, if a Texas homeowner is not happy with how the HOA is handling things, they should get more involved with the HOA, or even try to get appointed to a committee or elected to the board.
What happens if an HOA doesn’t enforce its rules?
If an HOA fails to enforce a particular rule for a long period of time, a homeowner might be able to argue successfully that the HOA has abandoned or waived that rule. A court must find that a reasonable person from outside the HOA would conclude that the HOA and its members no longer want to enforce the rule. This can be difficult to prove. A clear-cut case might involve:
A rule that an HOA has never enforced before;
Clear evidence of repeated violations by other homeowners; and
Attempted enforcement by the HOA against the homeowner raising the objection, and no one else.
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