What are the limits? Insight Into HOA Laws and Limitations

Insight Into HOA Laws and Limits

Most owners in a condominium or homeowners community realize that shared living means not always being able to do what you want.

Boards of directors and governing documents dictate much of what happens within a community, from which vendor cuts the common lawn to what hours the pool house is open, from which management company is hired to which parking space each owner is assigned.

But what is the limit of those pervasive powers? Can your association really police aesthetics, dictate the color of your front door or make you paint a driveway to satisfy directors’ sense of taste?

The answer often is yes, say legal experts, but not always.

Those types of questions are being faced by Sidney Bedell of Boynton Beach. The 83-year-old retiree is frustrated with his board, which recently sent him a notice warning that he better paint his driveway. Bedell paid $520 to have his stamped-cement driveway sand-blasted, a process that eviscerated previous paint jobs.

His beef: The painting process is an ongoing pain and pocketbook drain. With the South Florida rain, heat and humidity, Bedell says the paint on his driveway lasts a couple years before bubbling and succumbing to mold. So he pays $500 or more to sandblast, but then is left with a $300-plus bill for repainting.

Bedell, a former physical therapist, is tired of the cycle.

“My governing documents say I must maintain, repair and replace my driveway,” Bedell said. “Nowhere does it say anything about painting. Why should I be forced to paint just because board members interpret maintaining to mean we have to paint our driveway?”

The answer to paint or not to paint and whether it is required typically lies in the governing documents, says attorney Eric Glazer.

For instance, in a condo community, the association typically has the authority to determine and enforce rules about the appearance of common areas.

Condo associations generally require more uniformity than homeowners associations, said Jed Frankel, of the law firm Eisinger, Brown, Lewis, Frankel and Chaiet. “For example, by requiring all units to have doors of a uniform type and color.” He recommends owners check documents carefully and work with boards when modifying the exterior of a unit or home.

In Bedell’s case, the HOA may be going too far. “If the documents don’t specifically say paint, the board will not be able to force an owner to paint the driveway,” Glazer said. However, associations may be able to force owners to keep driveways and property in top condition.

If the HOA wants to force owners to actually paint, it would have to go through the process of amending governing documents with a membership vote, he said.

“For me it is not a financial burden, for other owners it could be,” Bedell said. “But for me it is a principle thing. I may not outlive the next paint job. And the whole community should not be forced to go through all of this over and over.”

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