Homeowners’ association (HOA) laws vary widely from state to state. For example, while Florida has enacted a lengthy list of rules and restrictions governing HOA activities, New York is yet to adopt a law that applies specifically to HOAs. With this in mind, when it comes to understanding what an HOA can legally require residents to do, the rules are not uniform across the United States.
With that said, there are several basic principles that govern the relationships between HOAs and homeowners. In this regard, it is important to keep in mind that homeowners who live in neighborhoods governed by HOAs do so voluntarily. If someone doesn’t want to live in a neighborhood that has an HOA, they can buy a home somewhere else. Homeowners in HOA neighborhoods agree to comply with the HOA’s rules and regulations when they buy, and this arm’s length contractual relationship is important to keep in mind as well.
14 Common (and Generally Legal) HOA Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions
For developers seeking to establish homeowners’ associations and managers of existing HOAs, it is imperative to understand what rules they can and cannot enforce. So, where are the lines drawn? Again recognizing that laws vary between states, generally speaking, HOAs have broad authority to adopt and enforce rules that are intended to benefit the neighborhood and its homeowners at large. For example, some common (and generally legal) HOA covenants, conditions and restrictions include:
- Architectural Standards and Guidelines Homeowners’ associations can generally establish standards and guidelines for architectural design within the community. These standards and guidelines can touch on everything from square footage to the style of façades and roofs. HOAs can enforce these standards and guidelines by requiring approval of architectural plans prior to construction and by requiring homeowners to remedy any violations that deviate from their approved plans.
- Exterior Storage and Outbuildings
Homeowners’ associations also have the general ability to regulate the construction of exterior storage facilities and outbuildings. They can prohibit the construction of these buildings outright, establish restrictions regarding height and size, require pre-approval of plans in accordance with the neighborhood’s architectural guidelines, and restrict the types of storage for which these buildings can be used. HOAs can also generally control the placement of exterior storage facilities and outbuildings, such as requiring them to be placed behind homes or a minimum distance away from property lines.
- Home Updates, Additions and Remodeling
Just as HOAs can enforce architectural standards and guidelines for new home construction, they can also enforce standards and guidelines for home updates, additions and remodeling. As a practical matter, these two sets of standards and guidelines will often be the same. From paint colors and architectural embellishments to the footprint of new additions, HOAs have broad authority to establish rules designed to preserve the look, feel and home values of their communities.
- Restrictions on Lawn and Holiday Decorations
Lawn ornaments and holiday decorations are often a point of contention between HOAs and homeowners. This is because many homeowners incorrectly assume that they have the right to use their property how they see fit. While this is true to an extent, and while First Amendment protections will come into play in some cases, HOAs still have the ability to regulate matters that affect neighboring property owners and the community as a whole.
- Home Landscaping and Maintenance Requirements
Homeowners’ associations can impose landscaping and maintenance requirements designed to ensure that neighborhood homeowners maintain appropriate upkeep and landscape their properties in a consistent manner. This extends well beyond requiring homeowners to keep their lawns and bushes trimmed. HOAs can also require pre-approval of landscaping plans, require or encourage the use of native plant species, and require homeowners to remedy violations—even if it means replacing or removing plants that a homeowner installed without proper approval.
- Noise Restrictions
Noise complaints are common in residential neighborhoods, and HOAs can enforce restrictions with regard to both time and volume. When enforcing neighborhood noise regulations in response to complaints, HOAs must be careful to fulfill their obligations without getting themselves unnecessarily involved in civil disputes between homeowners or in matters that require the involvement of law enforcement.
- Fences, Swimming Pools, Playsets and Basketball Hoops
In addition to houses, outbuildings, and landscaping, homeowners’ associations can also establish and enforce rules governing fences, swimming pools, playsets, basketball hoops and other items. These rules can go so far as to prevent homeowners from installing these items, or they can establish standards and guidelines while making any proposed installations subject to HOA approval. For example, it is fairly common for HOAs to require homeowners to install the same type of fencing (or choose from a limited list of style options) and to require that any playsets be placed in backyard areas that are not visible from neighborhood roads.
- Parking and Vehicle Restrictions
Homeowners’ associations can restrict the number of vehicles homeowners can park on their property. They can also establish rules regarding roadside parking; and, in neighborhoods with parking lots, they can establish rules regarding designated homeowner and visitor spaces. HOAs can also prohibit homeowners from storing inoperable vehicles on their land.
- Boat and Personal Watercraft (PWC) Restrictions
In neighborhoods near lakes, rivers and coastal areas, it is common for many homeowners to own boats or personal watercraft (PWC). HOAs can prohibit homeowners from storing boats and PWCs in their driveways or on their land, and they can also establish rules that allow homeowners to park their boat or PWC trailers in their driveways temporarily while preparing for (or cleaning up after) a day on the water.
- Pet Rules
Homeowners’ associations can enforce pet rules including restrictions on the size and number of pets that homeowners house. HOAs can also establish leash rules and other similar types of requirements; and, in neighborhoods with dog runs and dog parks, HOAs can establish rules regarding hours, capacity, uses and other relevant matters as well.
- Short-Term Rental Rules
With the advent of apps like Airbnb and its competitors, short-term rentals have become increasingly common in residential neighborhoods in recent years. Oftentimes, homeowners will rent out their homes while on vacation, or even allow people to rent their homes while confining themselves to an apartment in the basement or above the garage.While some homeowners prefer to have the ability to rent their homes, others will prefer not to have strangers sleeping next door on a regular basis. With this in mind, in today’s world, HOAs can and should adopt short-term rental policies. Like all covenants, conditions and restrictions, these policies should clearly establish what is and isn’t permitted.
- Trash and Recycling Rules
Homeowners’ associations can establish requirements regarding the placement of homeowners’ trash and recycling bins. HOA rules routinely require homeowners to keep these out of view, except on pick-up days. Whether this means keeping them in homeowners’ garages, on their back patios or behind visual barriers is a matter that should be addressed based on the unique characteristics of each individual community.
- Use of Common Areas
In neighborhoods with swimming pools, parks and other common areas, HOAs can (and generally should) adopt rules and restrictions governing access to and use of these community facilities.
- Pay Dues and Assessments
Finally, HOAs have the legal authority to require homeowners to pay dues and assessments. This includes both annual dues and special assessments—as calculated in accordance with the community’s governing documents. HOAs can enforce homeowners’ payment obligations through various means, including the imposition of fines and late fees, as well as placing liens on homeowners’ properties (in accordance with applicable law).
When Do HOA Rules, Restrictions and Activities Cross the Line?
While homeowners’ associations generally have broad authority to impose requirements on homeowners, this authority is far from absolute. HOAs must be careful to avoid crossing the line between preserving neighborhood standards and violating homeowners’ rights. Some examples of HOA rules, restrictions and activities that may cross the line include:
- Interfering with Homeowners’ Property Rights – Covenants, conditions and restrictions must not interfere with homeowners’ property rights. This has implications under federal condemnation and eminent domain laws.
- Discriminatory Policies and Enforcement – HOAs must not adopt policies that are discriminatory in their nature or their effect. They must avoid engaging in discriminatory enforcement practices as well.
- Selective Enforcement – Selective enforcement is also generally prohibited. This means that HOAs cannot favor particular homeowners or approved architectural styles or pets, for example, over others. With limited exceptions, options that are available to some homeowners must be made available to all homeowners within the community.
- Ex Post Facto Enforcement – HOAs generally cannot require homeowners to make changes based on covenants, conditions and restrictions that are adopted after homeowners have already constructed, remodeled or landscaped their properties in accordance with pre-existing rules and regulations. This is referred to as ex post facto (or “after the fact”) enforcement.
- Violation of the HOA’s Governing Documents – Homeowners’ associations must operate in accordance with their own governing documents. When community managers or others exceed the scope of authority or neglect their duties, this can (and often will) lead to disputes with homeowners.