For many California residents, home ownership continues to rank high on the list of what it means to live the "American dream." The sense of pride in ownership coupled with the security of having one's own refuge from the world can, however, be challenged if a dispute arises between the homeowner and the homeowners association. The biggest area of controversy regularly revolves around choices a homeowner makes or wishes to make regarding architectural or landscaping changes. Although membership in an HOA is not voluntary, there are rights a homeowner retains and options that may be pursued when problems arise.
As a condition of purchasing a home in a neighborhood or area that is governed by an HOA, a homeowner agrees to follow all the rules, which are known as the covenants, conditions and restrictions. HOA experts caution that it is a good idea to review HOA rules prior to home purchase to avoid unexpected surprises. The reality, however, is that most people never do so until they are informed that something they have done places them in noncompliance.
Although the HOA CC&Rs are written down and often in place for many years, how they are interpreted can vary by the make-up of the governing body of the board. Most often, the board is comprised of volunteer homeowners within the association, and these board members may have their own agenda. The state laws that oversee HOAs do not permit arbitrary enforcement of the rules; the rules must be clear, an established procedure to resolve disputes must be in place, and decisions must be made in a fair, non-discriminatory manner.
If a homeowner is denied a requested change to his or her property, a written, detailed explanation is required. A homeowners association lawyer may review a neighbor dispute to determine if some action can be taken.