Monday, February 23, 2009

Can I sue the homeowners association?

A question I got over the weekend:
With homes falling into foreclosure...HOAs [condominium homeowner associations] are also suffering. Is it possible to sue your HOA for not abiding by the covenant?

The quick answer: of course!

This happens all the time and my guess is that HOA's are being sued left and right given the state of the housing market and the economy broadly. If you don't know what an HOA is, pretty much its like the property management group that you pay when you buy a condo. Homeowner associations are just that: run by the owners of all the properties in a building or community and set up as a legal entity so they can collect fees and provide services.

HOAs are great if they deliver on all the things they promise, which can range from high-speed Internet service to trash pickup to landscaping. The problem is that groups of homeowners all with their individual wants and needs don't always make for great management. Last year I lived in a condo that I leased from its owner. it took 11 months for the HOA to decide it was OK for me to get DirecTV, even though there were already three dishes on the building. It also took about a month to get the lock on my mailbox fixed and water damage to the solarium was there when I moved in and still there when I left.

Which brings me back to the question: can you sue your association if they're not delivering the goods? Yes, you absolutely can. Your agreement to pay fees to the HOA when you buy is typically legally-binding and if one side breaks the agreement, it can be remedied in court. You may want to check your association's bylaws, though, since they may require any disputes go before an arbitrator rather than actually going to court.

Good luck.

4 comments:

Mary said...

Hmm I wish I knew this a month ago. I came out of pocket to fix a leak/flood that my building admits they caused...

mitch said...

Sure you can sue your own Homeowner Association but that should be the action of last resort. After all it will be you and your neighbors who will eventually pay for the legal costs. First, try to reason with the property manager and board. Write a letter and ask that your issue be addressed in the next meeting. Hold off a lawsuit until all your other actions are futile.

Mia6998 said...

Thanks for the post Keith.

Mitch...here's the story. My landscaping is damaged and has been for over a year. I took pictures of the damage and sent it to the HOA. But the HOA is in flux...they can't even get enough people to a monthly meeting to have a quorum to vote on ANYTHING. And it's hard because my property is in another state, otherwise I would probably be on the HOA board or at minimum be there to attend the meetings.

As I told Keith, worse case scenario I'm going to pay out of pocket to get my landscaping fixed and then write it off on my taxes since I claim my home as income.

But my HOA is in a financial mess. Like spending $80 a month for a phone at the gate when the gate hasn't worked in years. Or paying for gate maintenance when again the gate hasn't worked in years. Paying a lawyer $800 a month who hasn't recovered enough money in loss HOA dues to be paid that much money. It's just out of control.

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