What Texas homeowners need to know about HOA rules and laws.
Whether you are living in a condominium or in a neighborhood with a homeowners’ association (HOA) or contemplating doing so, it is important that you understand Texas HOA laws. Being a part of a Texas homeowners’ association brings great benefits, but also responsibilities, challenges, and sometimes legal disputes.
In this article, we will help you understand the legal definition of HOAs, HOA rules and laws, and why homeowner and HOA conflicts most often arise. We will also address how to protect your rights against illegal HOA practices, and why having an attorney represent you in any HOA dispute is crucial.
HOA in Legal Terms
Under Texas law, there are two types of HOAs: HOAs for condominium owners, and HOAs for homeowners in neighborhood subdivisions, which are referred to under the Texas Property Code as “property owners’ associations.” In everyday language, most people refer to both types of entities as HOAs.
Although different sections of the Property Code apply to HOAs for condominium owners than to HOAs for homeowners in neighborhood subdivisions, similar principles apply. Both are created through a document, typically called a declaration, identifying the property that will be subject to the HOA, outlining the rights and responsibilities of owners, and describing how the property will be managed.
Declarations typically call for the property to be managed by a Texas non-profit corporation, which in turn is managed by a board of directors elected by homeowners. It is this corporation that we typically refer to as the HOA.
HOAs operate under bylaws, which establish rules for how the corporation will be managed. Bylaws frequently provide guidelines for when HOA annual meetings are to occur; may establish various committees, such as architectural control committees; and may establish rules that govern property use and maintenance.
Let’s restate that in plain English! HOAs are organizations made up of property owners that govern the area where the owners live. These private community-run associations are mainly responsible for managing the grounds, maintaining communal areas, and enforcing community rules that homeowners must follow.
Rules vs. Laws
So the HOA governs a condominium or a neighborhood. But Texas law, in addition to the HOA governing documents, also set limits on the authority of an HOA. An HOA is not above the law! The HOA must follow its own governing documents. For example, an HOA cannot impose restrictions on property use that are not contained in the declaration or bylaws.
An HOA cannot charge fines unless such fines are authorized under the HOA’s declaration or bylaws, and unless the HOA has followed the procedures required under the Texas Property Code. An HOA cannot enforce its rules against some property owners and not others.
What happens then, if a homeowner does not agree with an HOA rule or believes that an HOA is being unfair to them? This occurs more than you might think. Read on to look at common disputes that arise between homeowners and HOAs and what to do if you are having a problem with your HOA.
Why Legal Problems with HOAs Arise
While the intent of being part of Texas HOAs is to have well-run communities, homeowners sometimes find that HOAs overstep their bounds. You are not alone if you have a dispute with your HOA.
Some common HOA financial conflicts include but are not limited to:
- The HOA’s attempt to collect late fees without providing initial notice of a balance;
- An HOA’s rate increase;
- An HOA’s attempt to issue fines without complying with Texas law.
There are also seemingly unending HOA disputes regarding such things as:
- Lawn care,
- House color,
- Playground equipment,
- Vehicles on property,
- Decorations, including flags,
- Mailbox color, and
- Additions to property (i.e., sheds, garages, inlaw suites, etc.).
While an HOA in many cases is authorized to regulate such things, issues may arise as to selective enforcement or arbitrary refusal to approve a property owner’s proposed changes.
In addition, disputes can arise over an HOA’s failure to enforce community rules and the resulting creation of nuisances; an HOA’s attempt to impose new restrictions on property use; or an HOA’s failure to maintain corporate or financial records.
When a homeowner asserts their rights, at the base of it is most often their belief that the HOA is harassing or treating them unfairly. If you have concerns regarding your HOA, you may need to assert your rights under Texas HOA laws. Start by contacting a law firm experienced in homeowner rights relating to HOAs.
Making a Complaint Against an HOA
Addressing conflicts with Texas homeowners associations can take time, legal skills, and both aggressive and defensive tactics. You may find yourself pointing out the HOA’s inappropriate and illegal actions, while also needing to protect and defend yourself from its claim against you. Filing a complaint against an HOA is sometimes also a two-fold process. Internal Process
The first step is to notify your HOA of your dispute. Getting a lawyer involved at this stage can help with the process, as the attorney can fully hear your side of the story, read and analyze the HOA’s governing documents, and contact your HOA to try and resolve all concerns while advocating for you.
Most HOAs will try to resolve the issue internally and without escalating it into a lawsuit if they can. If a court must later address the issue, your legal team can point out that you tried to work with your HOA to resolve the issue. This is a positive as it indicates that you are a reasonable person who tried to resolve the issue but now must assert your rights under Texas HOA laws. Using the Legal System
Regardless of attempts to resolve issues through internal methods or standard negotiation and dispute resolution between the parties, sometimes homeowners must escalate the issue to the courts. If this occurs, the tensions and complexity of the process both rise, and it is crucial that you have a skilled HOA attorney.
HOA Court Disputes and Legal Help
If your HOA dispute is headed to or in a legal battle, you need a lawyer as soon as possible. Here is why.
Complicated Laws Are Involved
HOA disputes involve the HOA laws referenced earlier. These laws have multiple sections and caveats that an attorney will need to apply to your situation. Your lawyer may also rely on case law (prior cases involving HOA disputes) to protect your rights, after thorough legal research. In addition, laws of contracts, real estate, and other areas of law will come into play. These are not tasks you want to complete on your own.
The HOA Will Have a Lawyer
Rest assured that your HOA will have an attorney if an issue goes to court. HOAs are notorious for holding onto their views, even when unreasonable. They will have legal representation, and you should too.
A Lot Is at Stake
Your home, your peace of mind, and your rights are all at stake. This is not the time to go it alone and rely only on advice from friends and family. The best self-advocacy you can provide is to consult with a lawyer. Even if you have already begun the process of fighting your HOA, it is not too late to seek legal help from a professional.
Fear of HOA and the Legal Process
Experienced attorneys who assist individuals with HOA disputes understand how distressing and overwhelming it can be for their clients. If you are in this situation, they know that you may feel:
- Upset, and
- Fearful of living peacefully in your home going forward.
Your legal team can be your shoulder to lean on as they advocate for you against your HOA. They know your rights, the Texas HOA laws, and how to handle dispute resolution and litigation. Turn your concerns over to lawyers who represent homeowners in disputes with their HOAs. Finally, it is crucial that you not ignore notices from your HOA warning you of actions they may take against you. The HOA may seek to levy against you:
- Substantial fines,
- Continuous harassment,
- Lawsuits for breach of contract, and even
For this reason, whether you have an issue with an HOA or they have one with you, get a lawyer. Protect your home; protect your rights.
Wood Edwards: Protecting Homeowners
Based in Dallas, Texas, Wood Edwards offers prompt, courteous service to its clients. We have a longstanding reputation of being top-notch legal advocates who provide zealous representation to every client we serve. When you work with the attorneys at Wood Edwards, you gain lawyers that unequivocally stand up for you and your rights.
Whether we help you resolve issues through dispute resolution or litigation, you can count on us to protect your interests and work tirelessly toward the best outcome possible. Call us today at 214-382-9789. or contact us online. Wood Edwards stands ready to help you.