Stephen A. Martin, Attorney at Law
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What rules can't a HOA enforce?

A homeowners' association (HOA) can add a lot of value to the life of residents. However, HOAs must also adhere to certain rules and regulations to ensure they don't run afoul of the law. offers the following examples of unenforceable rules that all HOAs should steer clear of.

The Fair Housing Act stipulates that all people should have equal access to quality housing. Accordingly, it's not permissible to discriminate against a person based on skin color, ethnicity, nation of origin, or religion. Things like gender or sexual orientation may also be protected depending on where the HOA is located. Additionally, even if a policy isn't outwardly discriminatory, the HOA must really consider whether it may have secondary effects that could be construed as such. 

While it is lawful for HOAs to fine homeowners for violations, these violations must be listed in the bylaws for fines to be valid. Fines that are distributed on the fly could be disputed by homeowners, which entails both sides coming forward to present evidence to back their claims. Additionally, when new rules are introduced the proper procedure must be followed, and these procedures must be outlined within HOA documentation. Failure to do so could lead to homeowner pushback, and depending on the topic being disputed, the HOA may be found at fault. 

HOAs also lack authority when it comes to some seemingly small decision. For instance, many states have laws in place allowing a person to hang laundry in their own backyards, provided the person isn't encroaching on a neighbor's property. Also, an HOA can't demand a homeowner take down a satellite dish, as they are protected by FCC laws regarding reception devices. Growing certain types of native plants is also a protected practice, but this largely depends on where you live. 

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