Navigating your Homeowner/HOA Relationship
Clifford Gravett, Esq.
Like many new residents in Mesquite, I had never heard of an HOA (home owner’s association) before I moved to Nevada several years ago. I quickly learned that HOAs are an important part of community life and property ownership for most of us in the Virgin Valley. Hopefully, this article will answer the questions you’ve always had about your HOA but been too afraid (or bored, as the case may be) to ask.
An HOA is born when a developer files a request with the State of Nevada to create a common-interest community and then records restrictive rules (known as the covenants, conditions, and restrictions, or CC&R’s) with the county recorder. Any person who buys in the development is subject to the CC&R’s. A common-interest community includes an owner’s association consisting of (you guessed it!) all of the owners in the community and which is represented by a board of directors. Day-to-day operations are likely handled by a professional property management company.
Depending on the type of common-interest community and the specific language of the CC&R’s governing the community, the responsibilities of the HOA may be extensive and include road maintenance, recreational facility maintenance (such as a swimming pool or club house) and landscaping. In addition to maintenance, the HOA can also do capital improvement projects (such as adding street lights, playgrounds or basketball hoops to the common areas).
All of this maintaining and capital improving adds up. To cover costs, the HOA adopts both regular and special assessments. Regular assessments are the fees an owner pays every month while special assessments are for major expenses (such as retaining wall failures or re-painting structures) the HOA is required to pay for but can’t afford. If you don’t pay your assessments, the HOA can take a lien against your property and, if you don’t pay, foreclose its lien. HOA liens are an extremely unsettled area of law at the moment; the important thing is, if you don’t pay, you’ll lose your house.
Finally, and most importantly, CC&R’s limit the way owners can use their property. An association has broad (but not unlimited) authority to adopt restrictive rules which generally fall into one of three categories: 1) enhancing neighborhood enjoyment (e.g. no loud music); 2) enhancing property values (e.g. no storing broken-down cars in your yard); or 3) maintaining the “thematic” elements of the neighborhood (e.g. requiring houses to be painted certain colors). Changes to the CC&R’s have to be approved by the owners but, once approved, are binding on all present and future owners in the community.
What can you do if you’re unhappy with the way your community is being run? First, get involved! Every owner can attend public meetings, review the budget and vote in board member elections. Second, if you’ve received a fine or penalty from your HOA, you have the right to a hearing either before the association’s grievance committee, the board of directors or both. If that doesn’t work, the Nevada Real Estate Division has a special mediation program to handle homeowner/association disputes.
HOAs can be a frustrating part of home ownership to be sure, but they often provide valuable services to home owners and, at any rate, they’re not going anywhere. If you have questions about your rights as an owner, or a dispute with your association, a competent attorney can be a valuable tool for exploring your rights and helping you find a solution to your dispute.
Clifford Gravett is an HOA board member and local attorney with the Virgin Valley law firm of Bingham Snow & Caldwell located in Mesquite. The firm serves clients in Nevada, Arizona, and Utah (702-346-7300 / www.binghamsnow.com). Is there a topic you’d like to see discussed in a future article? E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.