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Fighting Your Condominium Association or HOA Could Cost You…. A Lot!

by | Jan 25, 2021 | Firm News |

Depending on who you are, you either love living in a condominium or subdivision governed by a Homeowners Association (HOA) or you hate it. If you are one of those people that likes things uniform and loves following the rules, you are probably just fine living in a condo or under the rules/restrictions of an HOA. But, if you want to do things your own way, you may not be too keen on it.

When you move into a condo or a house governed by a HOA, there are rules/restrictions in place specifically dealing with what the exterior of your condo unit or your house can look like or what you can, cannot, or must plant in your yard. For instance, many condos required all the units to have a certain color/kind of window coverings or a certain color/kind of front entry door. If you live in a site condominium[1] or a subdivision governed by a HOA, you most likely have rules/restrictions stating what color your home may be, what kind of landscaping you may have, what kind of trees may be planted, what type of driveway you can have, etc.

You may think that you can fight your condo association or HOA, but the truth of the matter is, when you bought your unit or house, you automatically agreed to a binding contract with the condo association or HOA. That means you agreed to follow the rules/restrictions, even if you did not know they existed or if you disagree with them.[2]  If you choose not to comply with the rules/restrictions, that could cost you thousands of dollars.

For instance, let’s say you removed your deck from your house/unit because it was rotted and falling apart. The condominium documents or subdivision restrictions state that all units/homes must have a deck. You decide that you do not want a deck and the upkeep that goes along with one, so you do not replace the deck. Then you get a letter from the condo association/HOA telling you that you have to rebuild the deck. The next thing you know, your condo association/HOA is telling you that unless you build the deck, it will have one built and bill you back. You ignore the notice. One morning you are about to get into your car to leave for the office and a work crew hired by the condo association/HOA has arrive to install the deck. You call the police and stop the installation. The condo association/HOA sues you to force you to install the deck and/or to let it install the deck and to charge you for any amounts it spent in contracting for the deck installation that you stopped. In my experience, you will lose this case. The court will rule that you are to install the deck, it can order you to pay amounts expended by the condo association/HOA, as well as the condo association/HOA’s legal fees. A deck that might have cost you $4,000, has now cost you $20,000 (or more) if you add in the condo association/HOA’s legal fees and the amount you had to pay your own lawyer.

Now let’s say you decided that your driveway needed to be replaced. Everyone in your community has a concrete driveway. You decide that you want an asphalt driveway and install one. The next thing you know, your condo association/HOA is telling you that you need to remove the driveway and replace it with a concrete driveway. If you live in a condominium, you were most likely required to submit an alteration/modification request form before having the work done. Many HOA’s also require a lot owner to ask for approval of exterior projects. If you would have asked your condo association/HOA for approval, your request for installing an asphalt driveway would have been denied for aesthetic purposes because only concrete driveways are allowed. However, you are now faced with whether to remove and replace the driveway or fight the condo association/HOA in court. My advice, remove it and replace it. While this might cost you thousands of dollars, if you go to court, you will mostly likely have to pay the condo association/HOA’s legal fees and your own legal fees on top of what it would cost you to remove and replace the driveway.

In all but the very rare instance, it is not a good idea to fight your condo association/HOA in situations like these. That being said, there are certain instances where a condo association/HOA is selectively enforcing its rules/restrictions; meaning it enforces them against some, but not all of its residents. In those situations, standing up to the condo association/HOA may be warranted.[3]

It is important that if you are considering getting into a fight with your condo association/HOA that you reach out to an attorney that is well versed in community association law. Many attorneys do not understand the consequences of these often baseless fights and can cost their clients thousands of dollars in legal fees. All of our attorneys at Tilchin & Hall, P.C. have extensive knowledge in the area of community association law. Please give us a call at (248) 349-6203 or send us a message below if you are wondering whether the fight is worth it or not.  It just might save you thousands of dollars, as well as a lot of stress and aggravation.

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[1] Many people that live in a site condominium think they are living in a subdivision governed by a HOA. That is because site condominiums look just like a subdivision when you drive into one. But, instead of owning a “lot” like you would in a subdivision, you are buying a “condominium unit.” Inside the condominium unit is where the house is constructed. For more information on this topic, be sure to check out our blog post “Condo Living 101: Basic Things You Should Know.”

[2] Sometimes condo associations/HOAs have architectural control rules that are published to all the co-owners. In other instances it is left open to the condo association’s board of directors to determine what alterations/modifications fit into the aesthetics of the community. First check your condo documents/subdivision declarations of restrictions and rules and regulations to see if they address the issues you are dealing with. If they do not, it would be best to contract your association’s board or directors or management agent to ask what is or is not allowed. You do not want to waste time, energy, and maybe even money getting quotes for a project that will not be approved.

[3] For a more in depth look at the dangers of failing to get HOA/condo association approval for projects, be sure to check out our blog post “Condominium Modifications & Alterations.”