Homeowners associations (HOAs) and planned communities have become increasingly popular in the past few years.
In PA, HOA laws fall under the state’s Uniformed Planned Community Act. HOAs are created by a declaration, with unit owners automatically becoming members of the association.
With the declaration comes bylaws, which control the governance of the HOA, the duties of the board and the operation and management of the association.
But with that popularity came a growing number of complex legal disputes. Issues related to PA HOA laws tend to go beyond the challenges of standard real estate law.
HOA Leader, a website that bills itself as “the practical guide to homeowner association management,” says these are the most common claims made against HOAs.
1. Failure to keep up properties
Residents have a reasonable expectation that an HOA will maintain its properties. Failing to maintain, repair or replace elements in common areas can open an HOA to litigation, whether it’s someone slipping on an icy sidewalk or tripping on a damaged step.
In some cases, there may be issues that prevent regular maintenance, such as a natural disaster or problems with a maintenance provider. In those situations, the association should keep residents up to date to prevent unpleasant situations from spilling over into litigation.
Like any organization, HOAs must comply with federal regulations like the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) and Fair Housing Act.
While many HOA governing documents give boards the right to make decisions on renting or selling to someone, these decisions cannot be based on the applicant’s race, color, religion, country of origin, gender, family status, disability, etc. Unfortunately, applicants who are denied might feel discriminated regardless of whether this was the case.
HOAs may also face ADA-related litigation for failing to make reasonable accommodations such as installing ramps or curb cuts.
3. Pet disputes
Pet restrictions are an all-too-common cause for HOA-related litigation. It might be that governing documents don’t go into enough detail in terms of spelling out what animals are allowed.
Pet trends are always changing – there was a time when no one would have thought of keeping a pot-bellied pig – and HOAs should review their governing documents to make sure they aren’t needlessly penalizing residents…or their four-legged companions.
4. Election disputes
When residents feel like their HOA board has failed to represent their interests, they have the right to despite board decisions or even the results of board elections. These disputes can lead to lawsuits and even recall elections, both of which can be extremely time-consuming.
5. Remodeling or building issues
Sometimes lawsuits can stem from a resident’s wish to remodel or add onto their property in a way that goes against the HOA rules.
And then there are issues that aren’t that common, but that are becoming more prevalent, according to the National Association of Realtors. Last year, they listed three issues that are putting HOAs at increased risk for litigation:
- Drone use – Some residents have sued their HOAs for using drones to get photos of the property (and photographing the inside of the residents’ homes in the process). HOAs should create rules to regulate who can use drones and when.
- Copyright violations – You decide to treat your residents to a movie night, screening the latest Marvel blockbuster. The residents love it, but Disney isn’t as thrilled. HOAs are increasingly facing copyright issues by showing licensed movies, depending on the circumstances.
- Mold – According to the National Association of Realtors, mold is a growing issue among homeowners associations. Mold damage isn’t included in most standard property insurance policies, meaning HOAS need to be prompt in dealing with mold and water problems.
If you’re facing any of these issues or anything else related to PA HOA laws, the real estate attorneys at Benner and Wild can help. Our homeowners association attorneys have provided guidance to HOAs, condominiums, planned communities and property management companies all across southeastern Pennsylvania.
We handle a broad range of issues relating to PA HOA laws for these clients, from preparing governing documents to covenant enforcement to fair housing amendment violation claims. From administrative forums all the way to federal court, we can make sure you’re protected.