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The Politics of HOAs and Limits on Home Improvements

A homeowner’s association (HOA) consists of a board of directors elected by people who live in a townhome, condominium, or other type of communal living situation. Although each person or family has an individual dwelling, a property management company bears responsibility for outdoor maintenance and repairs and some inside ones as well.

An HOA has significant power to enact and enforce rules that impacts residents’ rights to renovate or decorate their home. Residents often need to seek HOA approval before making even a minor change to their living space. This can easily put the two sides at odds with one another.

The Legality of HOAs

Legally speaking, the ability to make and enforce such rules about construction and aesthetics fall under the jurisdiction of a land use issue according to the federal government. Federal laws tend to favor property owners in land use disputes due to a government tendency to view such laws with skepticism.

The law does make an exception for HOAs because it recognizes that the needs of the  community sometimes take priority over the preferences of a resident. Anyone considering moving into a property governed by an HOA should understand that they provide their implied consent to abide by its rules. Several people have taken such matters to court with rulings typically favoring HOAs. Even so, HOAs have a lot of leeway when deciding whether to approve, deny, or request modification of a project.

Replacement Windows a Common Example of Projects Requiring HOA Approval

People who want to replace their windows for improved aesthetics or energy efficiency often feel frustrated by the need to work with an HOA to gain approval. One way to make the process easier for everyone is to study HOA guidelines regarding window replacement in advance and start the negotiation process from there.

Below are suggestions for how property owners can shorten the approval time and experience less frustration in the process.

  • Ensure the new window does not differ significantly in design, color, and other aesthetics from the old window. The replacement window should also blend in well with other windows in the development.
  • Check to see if the HOA has any provisions about whether the replacement window must be new construction or retrofit.
  • Determine who is responsible to pay for a city permit if required and/or any damages caused by the window replacement contractor.
  • Find out if the HOA requires property owners to use certain replacement window contractors.

While window replacement is a common issue between HOAs and residents, it’s far from the only one. Painting the exterior of the home, adding a deck, or even hanging pictures on the wall are other examples of possible points of contention.

HOAs Report to Local Government

Even when residents complain to an HOA, the board of directors may have limited power to change a situation. They often need to get approval from the City Council themselves before enacting any significant changes. The good news is that residents can come together to make their voices known to the HOA, resulting in the HOA putting pressure on local government.

Some typical issues that reach this level include land use ordinances, problems with other developments, people speeding through the development, and repair issues resulting from city mismanagement. Although a person’s paint color preference won’t go before the City Council, it’s comforting to know that it will hear and intervene with residents’ most pressing issues.

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