Has my HOA gone too far? Here’s what can (and cannot) be enforced, California la…

Has my HOA gone too far? Here’s what can (and cannot) be enforced, California la…

Can my Homeowner Association demand a photo of my dog, ban visitors in my community pool or regulate how I decorate my outdoor patio?

In California, they can — and do.

HOAs are nonprofit organizations established to create and enforce bylaws for those living in residential developments. Oftentimes, the tension lies in the historical makeup of the association: Homeowners are governed by everyday people, who double as their next-door neighbors.

Chris Neri, an assistant commissioner with the California Department of Real Estate, said HOAs perform duties typically assigned to a city or county like maintenance and insurance upkeep.

The department does not oversee community associations; in fact, no agency does.

The Davis-Stirling Common Interest Development Act — a large body of laws including dispute resolutions, elections and finances — governs associations across California. Most HOAs will hire a property management firm, but they’re at the will of the board of directors.

“The board in all likelihood is not going to be real estate attorneys or they’re not going to be property managers … but they decide the fate,” said Neri, who signs off on new associations before they’re marketed to the public as head of the California Department of Finance’s subdivisions team.

The Sacramento Bee consulted Neri and MBK Chapman, a California-based real estate and business law firm, to grasp an understanding of how much power HOAs have over their members.

Here’s what we found:

What powers do HOAs have over their members?

Every HOA has a different set of law-binding agreements, restrictions and responsibilities — created and carried out by a batch of homeowners who have volunteered to make up a board of directors.

According to California Civil Code 4350, associations can enforce practically any rule they want to, so long as they follow these guidelines:

  1. It’s in writing

  2. The board has the power to make the decision

  3. It doesn’t conflict with a local, state or federal law

  4. It’s adopted without ill intent

  5. It’s fair and sensible

Community associations are legally able to do the following, according to MBK Chapman’s “A Homeowner’s Essential Guide to Homeowners Associations:”

  • Establish rules and budgets

  • Arrange meetings

  • Impose government documents

  • Invest money

  • Manage common areas

  • Acquire insurance

  • Build committees, schedule elections and select officers

  • Employ managers, attorneys and vendors

  • Establish building standards

  • Disburse reserves

  • Sign off on contracts

  • Collect and pay association fees

  • File and defend lawsuits

You could face fines for not complying with your HOA.

What are my rights as a member of an HOA?

According to California Civil Code 4500, homeowners split equal shares of their community’s common areas through their membership in the HOA.

California Civil Code 4095 defines common areas as the entire residential development, excluding individually owned property. This could be the pool, grill pits and fitness center — but there are exceptions to the rule.

For example, a residential development can have a public park that the city requires the HOA to maintain.

A board of directors cannot prohibit you from hanging the American flag, displaying noncommercial signs or religious items, owning at least one pet or air-drying laundry in your backyard. The Davis-Stirling Common Interest Development Act also covers protected uses of roofs, satellite dishes, water usage, pressure washing and electric vehicle charging stations.

Disputes among homeowners and the board are common, Neri said, and the only way to permanently squash the beef — a lawsuit— isn’t “very effective.”

How do I resolve an issue with my HOA?

According to California Civil Code 4515, you can sue your association in a civil or small claims court for up to $500 for each violation.

Just remember, you’ll be paying for their legal fees, as well as your own.

A portion of your monthly dues covers the association’s legal expenses. Stop paying for long enough and your property can be foreclosed, Neri said.

“I’m the first to say they’re not perfect,” Neri said, “but it’s the only system that we have.”

Members also have the right to recall the entire board of directors or a specific member, according to MBK Chapman. In limited circumstances, the Office of the Attorney General can guide you through disputes.

What rules cannot be enforced by HOAs?

According to California Civil Code 4225, housing associations cannot discriminate based on race, religion, sexual orientation, income, gender (identity or expression), disability or status (martial or military).

Associations cannot prohibit members and residents from doing the following, according to California civil codes 4510 and 4515:

  • Accessing their separately owned properties

  • Gathering peacefully during reasonable hours to discuss HOA-related topics

  • Inviting public officials/candidates or HOA representatives to speak at meetings

  • Using vacant space in a common area to hold meetings

  • Circulating HOA-related information among themselves during reasonable hours

  • Using online tools to discuss concerns like elections and living conditions

  • Using a common area without paying a fee or for insurance

What do you want to know about life in Sacramento? Ask our service journalism team your top-of-mind questions in the module below or email [email protected].

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