An HOA attorney is paramount to any homeowners association. They perform tasks and consult on issues that an HOA would otherwise have no way of doing. Here’s why your association needs one.
The Case for an HOA Attorney
Retaining the services of an attorney is important for every homeowners association. The HOA governing documents, as well as federal, state, and local laws, dictate many aspects of the community’s management. The association must follow these stipulations.
Having a good HOA attorney who specializes in community associations can assist in ensuring compliance and, in turn, preventing lawsuits. Homeowners association attorneys can also aid in everything from amending CC&Rs to collections, as well as provide legal representation should the HOA need it.
Why an HOA Attorney Is So Important
Any organization, whether for profit or not, can benefit from the aid of an attorney. That’s why so many companies have attorneys on retainer or even hire their own corporate counsel. Attorneys protect organizations, that’s just the way it is. And a homeowners association is no different.
Retaining the services of an HOA attorney is instrumental in HOAs in many ways. Here are some of the roles HOA lawyers can help fulfill:
1. Interpret Governing Documents and Laws
As legal corporations, community associations are bound by their governing documents and federal, state, and local laws. HOA governing documents may be difficult to understand. But, HOA attorneys can assist with more difficult terms as well as assisting in interpretation.
For instance, a homeowners association attorney could help a condominium association determine the maintenance responsibilities of the association and those of the individual unit owners.
2. Amend Governing Documents
An HOA lawyer can also help with making changes to the governing documents to modify everything from architectural guidelines to increase the number of board members. Amending the HOA governing documents is no small act. The process can take some time and a great deal of work.
When the HOA board chooses to amend the governing documents, they should make sure the changes don’t come into conflict with existing stipulations. The alterations should also comply with federal, state, and local laws, such as the Fair Housing Act. An attorney can help with that as well as the proper wording of any changes to minimize the risk of liability.
3. Collect Assessments
Unfortunately for many community associations, there are always homeowners who do not pay their assessments. This could stem from a number of reasons — from insufficient income to a downright refusal to do so. Most HOA boards do everything they can to collect delinquent dues, including imposing late fees and even revoking privileges.
If the board chooses to take further action, such as file a lawsuit or place a lien on the property, it will need the help of HOA attorneys. Of course, you should still make sure to act within the parameters of the governing documents.
4. Represent the HOA and Its Board
The HOA’s governing documents also list the fiduciary responsibilities of the board of directors. If a board is found to not be upholding these responsibilities or acting neglectfully, homeowners within the association may take legal action. The board of directors would then need legal representation, and in many cases, a lawyer they have already retained will be able to assist.
The need for legal representation isn’t limited to a breach of fiduciary duty either. Many homeowners decide to sue the association or the HOA board for even the smallest of disputes. While it’s easy to ignore or dismiss these as petty complaints, you still need a lawyer for counsel and to defend the HOA.
5. Overall Legal Counsel
What does an HOA attorney do? Every homeowners association needs legal counsel for a sundry of issues. An HOA attorney can serve as general legal counsel when it comes to management concerns, such as disputes or accusations of discriminatory behavior.
If the board is unsure of a course of action they intend to take, an attorney can weigh in with their expert opinion. In the long run, having an attorney by the board’s side will limit the possibility of liability.
How to Find an HOA Attorney for Your Association
Finding an attorney who specializes in community associations may prove difficult as it is not a very popular specialty, nor is it one that is usually categorized on law firm directories. If your association utilizes a management firm, they will most likely have a relationship with one or more law firms in the area and be able to give a recommendation.
Another good place to look is the service directory of your local chapter of the Community Associations Institute (CAI). All of the lawyers listed will be a member of the organization and have experience in community association law. CAI is a reliable partner in the HOA industry, so you can trust their recommendations when it comes to HOA attorneys.
A simple Google search can also turn up plenty of results. Some examples of keywords you can use are as follows:
- HOA lawyer near me
- HOA attorney near me
- Best HOA lawyers near me
Word of mouth is also a great way to find an experienced lawyer. Talk with friends and family members who have served on the boards of other local HOAs as they may have had good experiences with a particular firm. Don’t just talk about the positives, though. If they have any criticisms about potential candidates, make sure to learn what these are, too.
Some HOA management companies offer legal assistance as part of their services. If yours does not, you can always ask them for any attorneys they can refer to you. There’s a good chance your management company can provide you with some options.
Other Types of Attorneys Worth Considering
If there aren’t any HOA law firms in your area or you’re unable to find an attorney in these manners, there are other types of attorneys that can be of assistance. Many board members think they need to select an attorney who specializes in real estate law.
However, real estate law pertains to homeownership and disputes, not necessarily the same matters an HOA deals with. HOA governing documents function more as contracts. As such, an attorney who specializes in business or contractual law is a better option for matters involving governing documents.
Things to Consider When Hiring an HOA Attorney
Obviously, there are a few things you should take into account when looking for the right attorney to hire. Don’t just pick the first one you can find. When narrowing down your options, consider the following:
- Your Needs. To know what services you need and how often you need them, take a look at the size of your association. Do you have a small HOA that only faces legal issues once in a while? Or do you have a larger community that often encounters legal trouble?
- Your Location. If you’re in California, then an attorney based in Florida would be of no use. Remember to accompany your search using location modifiers. You can also use keywords such as “HOA lawyers near me” or “HOA attorneys near me.”
- Your Budget. The cost of an HOA attorney can vary greatly, so it’s important to verify how much each potential candidate charges in HOA lawyer fees. It also depends on your financial capacity as an HOA. What may seem like HOA reasonable attorney fees to one association may not be that way for another.
- Trustworthiness. Your attorney will be in charge of a number of matters — some of them confidential. Therefore, it only makes sense to hire someone you can trust and someone who is honest. Your HOA attorney should also put the interests of the community first.
For the Future of Your HOA
There’s no denying that HOA attorneys play an essential role in homeowners associations. They serve as the HOA board’s counsel, advising them on the best practices and steering them away from liability. Attorneys are also experts at interpreting the law and the HOA’s governing documents, thus, ensuring compliance and preventing conflict. Apart from that, an HOA attorney can help with collections of late assessments.
By retaining an attorney, homeowners associations not only protect themselves but all of their members now and in the future. Just as important as having an attorney, though, is finding the right one. Make sure to look at credentials, testimonies, and expertise when evaluating prospects. Beyond that, ensure that the attorney you ultimately select shares the same ideals as your association and works well with your board.