What Can Your HOA Do if You Don’t Follow the Rules?

If you buy a house in a neighborhood with a homeowners association (HOA), you most likely have rules and regulations to follow. These rules can range from the logical, like maintaining your yard by cutting your grass regularly, to the wild, like regulating what size and color your doorbell needs to be.

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The big question for homeowners, though, is what exactly your association can do if you don’t follow the rules. And the answer is one you may not like. While the specifics of exactly what an HOA can do may vary depending on where you live, here are some general steps an association most likely will be able to take if you fail to live up to your obligations.

Your HOA could impose fines

In most cases, if you do not follow the rules of your homeowners association, the HOA could impose fines. However, the law usually doesn’t automatically give associations the right to charge fees for non-compliance. The governing documents of the neighborhood have to establish this authority — otherwise, HOAs couldn’t do this.

State laws do impose certain limitations, restrictions, or requirements on the fines that can be imposed. For example, in many states, the association would be required to provide some kind of notice and instructions on how to correct violations before it could fine you. But if you didn’t follow the rules and fix the problem, you’d be subject to whatever fees your community charter allows and the HOA imposes.

Your HOA could correct the problem and charge you for it

In certain situations, the governing documents of your community might give the HOA the right to correct your violations and then charge you for doing so.

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For example, let’s say your neighborhood rules require that you keep your lawn mowed and remove dead trees. If you don’t mow and leave a dead tree standing, your association might be allowed to have someone go in and trim the lawn and cut down the tree — and could then impose a bill for doing so.

Again, state laws won’t provide this authority automatically, but if the rules applicable to your neighborhood give the HOA this right, state laws won’t typically prevent it from taking action.

Your HOA could put a lien on your house and even foreclose

Finally, HOAs actually could have the right to take your home — even if you are current on your mortgage payments. This can happen if you don’t pay your assessments or don’t pay the fines that your association imposes. Associations can do this by getting a lien on your house, which is an ownership claim, and then foreclosing on the lien and forcing the sale of your home.

There will likely be some laws in your state protecting you throughout this process to ensure that your association doesn’t unfairly take your home. But if you do owe fines or fees and don’t pay up, this is a very real possibility.

The consequences of not following the rules can obviously be very serious. You don’t want to face them. So, if you aren’t OK with the restrictions and policies in any particular neighborhood, you should avoid taking on a mortgage to buy a house there. If you already have a home in a place with an association, you should read the rules carefully and do your best to comply with them in order to avoid any of these undesirable consequences.

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