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Laguna Hills California Homeowners' Association Law Blog

Homeowners' association boards must protect their communities

Property values, quality of life and safety are some of the things that many California homebuyers search for as they tour homes and communities. Finding these and other benefits to living in certain communities often come with homeowners' association boards, which many homeowners consider double-edged swords. While they appreciate the protections, they are not as thrilled with the enforcement of rules.

Whether here in California or elsewhere across the country, homeowners believe they should have the right to do what they wish with their homes, including renting them out. However, many HOA boards get into battles with homeowners over this issue. The boards do not want community residents renting out their homes for short terms. This is due to noise and other complaints from other residents of the community.

The restrictions homeowners' association members may face

California residents often buy houses in order to create a space that reflects their personalities and have a place where they can do what they want. That may work for the interior of those homes, but once owners step outside, the situation could be quite different. Homeowners' association members face numerous regulations set by the rules, covenants, conditions and restrictions of the communities in which they live.

The goal is to keep the neighborhood somewhat uniform in order to maintain an attractive area in which property values stay steady or increase. Painting rooms bright colors may work well inside a home, but more than likely, HOAs in many California neighborhoods would frown on certain colors for the exterior. The same could be said for the types of siding or shingles an owner may want to put on the home.

Are homeowners' association members at the mercy of the board?

California residents looking to move into communities that enjoy certain amenities such as pools, landscaping and more may also find that all of the houses look relatively uniform. There may be slight variations, but their boards generally restrict homeowners' association members regarding certain external aspects of their homes. The question is whether boards go too far and have too much control over homeowners.

A community in another state is currently asking this question. A homeowner felt his mailbox needed replacing in order to spruce it up. He purchased one similar to the old one, which the board of his HOA had approved years earlier. However, a couple of months after the installation, community members received notice from the board that they had to have a certain kind of mailbox.

This may be why homeowners' association boards exist

A good portion of the time, paying those monthly or quarterly dues to a California community is more of an inconvenience than it appears to be worth. However, there are times when homeowners' association boards seem to earn the money in their coffers. For instance, when the local government comes after the community for some reason, it is the board's job to stand between homeowners and the governmental agency.

For example, a condominium tower in northern California is sinking. It has been sinking since it was built in 2009. The building is 654 feet tall and has 58 floors. It has already sunk enough to cause the building to tilt approximately 18 inches to the west. The HOA board has been attempting to work with developers to find a solution that will not bankrupt anyone involved.

Not all homeowners' association boards are worthy of trust

Many California residents find themselves in the position of trusting strangers with their money when they move into a new neighborhood. They have to trust that the homeowners' association boards in charge of their communities will use the dues they pay in according with the community's rules, bylaws and CC&Rs (covenants, conditions and restrictions). When that does not happen, it can erode relationships within the community and pit neighbor against neighbor.

HOA boards are made up of residents who live in the community. When the system works properly, they are voted into their positions by their neighbors who trust they will do their best to run the community, ensure properly values remain stable or rise and treat everyone fairly and with respect. This may be what one community on the East Coast hoped would happen when a man, his wife and his mother were voted onto the board several years ago.

Can homeowners' association boards make discriminatory rules?

This is the question that one condominium owner in one of California's neighboring states is asking. The problem that many people come across is that homeowners' association boards believe that they can make any rules they want -- even if they end up discriminating against groups of people protected by federal and state law. Making matters worse is that HOA members believe it as well, so boards are never appropriately challenged.

HOA boards may attempt to disguise their discrimination with the way they word rules, but most of them simply are not that clever. A thorough review of the rule when put up against the law often reveals the bias and discrimination. It only takes someone willing to step forward to bring it to everyone's attention.

Homeowners' association members side with the board

California residents often find themselves at odds with those who run their neighborhoods. However, in some instances, homeowners' association members and their boards end up banding together in order to achieve a common goal. This could be in a disagreement with a city, a county, the state or a prospective homeowner.

An HOA and its members in another state have banded together in an attempt to stop an individual from constructing a home that they say is an eyesore. They also claim that it violates the communities standards regarding homes. The owner says that his construction is within the rules.

Will the state rein in homeowners' association boards?

Elections at the federal and state level are monitored to make sure that everyone eligible to vote has the chance to do so without interference. It would be logical to believe that all elections, no matter how large or small would be the same way, but that may not be the case. As it turns out, the elections for homeowners' association boards often defy this logic, and the California legislature may do something to change that.

Not all of the approximately 55,000 HOAs here in California honor the democratic election process. Instead, current board members may get creative in circumventing the process. They may creatively manipulate the community's rules in order to invalidate votes. In some cases, residents never received ballots or even knew about the election.

Can homeowners' association boards ban certain people?

Federal law protects certain classes of people from discrimination. It does not matter whether the individual is in the workplace or applying for housing, those individuals covered by federal and/or California law may not be discriminated against. What about the people who are not part of any of those groups? Could homeowners' association boards ban certain people from living in their communities as long as they are not part of a protected group?

A certain HOA board in another state wants to keep registered sex offenders from living in its community. Board members have proposed an amendment to the community's rules in order to make it happen. Many homeowners in the neighborhood want more information before voting for or against the amendment. Registered sex offenders do not belong to any protected group under the law, so whether the HOA board can take this step could become a matter for the courts.

Homeowners' association boards ought to enforce the rules fairly

Uniformity is often desired in many California residential communities. Keeping the appearance of the neighborhood consistent often helps owners retain their property values and makes a neighborhood more desirable. When homeowners fail to adhere to the rules regarding the way their properties look, homeowners' association boards may contact them to request that they correct the problem.

Those actions may seem reasonable. Right? It would be if HOA boards enforced the community's rules equally.

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