HOA jurisdiction over backyard

by Dee Jolly
(Houston, Tx, USA)

Visitor Question: The Board Members of my HOA (home owners association) say they have no jurisdiction over people’s back yards. A neighbor had a junk yard and does not mow grass or trim shrubs.

The pool is black from the hurricane; I can see it from my house. How can the Board be not responsible?

Editors Comment: Your board members might well be telling the truth when they say they have no authority over back yards. It all depends on the way that your covenants (or deed restrictions or CC and R's, whatever they may be called) are written.

If the master deed or covenants do not give the HOA board broad authority to make rules, the board may be restricted to enforcement of whatever restrictions are put in place through the deed. These may not address housekeeping, excess outdoor storage, or debris, especially in back yards.

On the other hand, if your deed restrictions allow the HOA to add new rules for the good of the development, then your task is to convince the board members that this current situation cannot go on.

Now let's address the swimming pool issue. We are assuming that you mean a community swimming pool within the common ground of the development, not one that the junky neighbor has installed on his own property.

If this is a community pool on common ground, that should fall within the responsibilities of the HOA in almost any situation. If your pool has not been cleaned and refurbished since the hurricane, you need to be complaining loudly to the HOA. No doubt you are paying HOA fees each month, quarter, or year, and you have every right to expect a functional pool.

If your HOA board has meetings open to all association members, attend the meeting, but better yet, make sure as many neighbors as possible attend the meeting. As we have said elsewhere on this site, if you have to throw a barbecue, invite everyone over and get organized for this fight.

Of course while you are talking to the neighbors about the swimming pool situation, you can also find out how people are feeling about rear yard maintenance and gauge the support you would have on that issue as well.

So on the back yard in question, we cannot say whether we think the HOA board is acting properly or not because we don't have all the documents necessary. If you can afford to do so, consult an attorney about this. If you have one living in your development, often he or she would take a quick look at the deed restrictions and give an informal opinion about whether the board actions are defensible or not.

If you find that the HOA board does have the power to make new rules, then ask them to enact some new policy against a rear yard full of miscellaneous junk, and ask them to include a substantial fine or fee for violators.

On the swimming pool, get together with like-minded neighbors and demand better action. The board may well need additional funds to cover the expense, but most have the power to levy assessments for such one-time clean-ups.

If you cannot get the HOA board to act in a responsible way, you can form your own neighborhood association. (See the how to start a neighborhood association article on this website.) Although the neighborhood association is in effect a private club, over the long term it could bring a lot of social pressure to bear on the HOA board to force better performance.

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