Can an HOA stop me from making ‘improvements’?
I live in a homeowners association that was created in the late 1980s. For years, the association landscape areas were meticulously maintained. But for the past five years, the slope behind my home has not been maintained properly.
Fed up with dying trees, dead bushes and overgrown groundcover, I hired a landscaper to remove the dead trees, trim the ground cover, add new plants and alter the sprinklers so I control the watering.
Recently, I received a letter from our association threatening to make me pay to have the slope returned to its “original condition” (aka dead!). The slope looks better than ever. What are my rights?
The slope is my property, just maintained by the HOA. As homeowners, how can we take action if our board and management company are mismanaging the community?
— Carolyn P.
Thank you for reaching out to me, I can understand your concern and frustration. That said, homeowners are not permitted to make any improvements to common areas, including landscaping, structures or any other common area elements.
Although the slope at the rear of your property may be within the boundaries of your property lines, the association most likely has an exclusive use easement over the area, granting them the legal right to maintain and control the slope.
To confirm this, you may want to review your association governing documents and your property’s title report. The association has the right and obligation to require that you cease and desist from making any further improvements to the common area landscaping and fund returning the slope to its original design.
Your association’s board of directors, in partnership with the association’s management company, have an obligation to properly maintain common-area elements, including landscaping.
As an owner, if you notice maintenance deficiencies, I encourage you to attend your association’s board meetings and express your concerns.
There may be underlying issues impacting the area behind your home that you are unaware of, including budgetary constraints, easement and land-use issues or a planned improvement project.
In the interest of ensuring a productive discussion and favorable outcome, I encourage homeowners to be respectful when addressing board members and give them an opportunity to provide an explanation addressing the issue. Board members are volunteers, neighbors and friends working for the betterment of the community and they deserve our respect. Too often, I see relatively minor issues become major battles due to contentious communication.
If, after meeting with your board, you feel that your concerns have fallen on deaf ears, I suggest speaking with neighbors and friends throughout the community to build an alliance of support to join you in conveying your concerns to the board.
There is absolutely power in numbers.
Written correspondence is also an effective tool to not only thoroughly and thoughtfully convey your concerns, but to document your efforts. Written petitions outlining homeowner concerns signed by a group of residents is another effective tool to convince a board to take action. Hand-deliver any written correspondences or petitions directly to the board at a regularly scheduled board meeting to ensure receipt.
Seldom do I see significant association maintenance deficiencies, unless there are underlying reasons. Give the board an opportunity to resolve your concerns or provide an explanation if it is unable to take immediate action.
As a homeowner, you do have the right to protect your community and your investment, but you do not have the right to make improvements to association property. If you feel the current board of directors is not meeting their obligations to the community, work with resident allies to elect a new board at the annual meeting.