Can an HOA fine us if we painted our house a neutral color that matches other houses in the neighborhood but it was done without its approval?

We purchased a house in an HOA but never received any copy of rules or covenants. The house as purchased was an eyesore in a peach color that did not match any other house in the neighborhood. Now we have painted the house and the president stopped by to say we were not supposed to do so without approval. I explained to her that we never recieved a copy of an HOA handbook nor any contact information for anyone within the HOA board. The house is now painted a tan color with white trim that matches all the other houses in the neighborhood, but she threatened us with fines of up to $100 a day for not getting approval. Can they truly do anything since the color matches the appearance of the neighborhood? Just wondering if we have any legal standing or what they can force us to do?

Asked on June 2, 2012 under Real Estate Law, Florida

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 8 years ago | Contributor

As a general matter, if the HOA agreement required approval to paint, then it does not matter if  you painted the home the same color as everyone else's home or not--if you didn't get the approval, you could be fined.

That said, the HOA may not be able to hold  you to the rules if they never provided you a copy of them and cannot prove you had a reasonable way to be aware of the rule--it depends on the exact circumstances. (E.g. are  the rules on an HOA website, where you could look them up? Or even if not, if you were aware that there is an HOA and that there are rules which govern renovations and improvements, you may have been under an obligation to reach out to the HOA to ascertain the specific limitations.) Also, the HOA may only impose whatever fines are permitted under the rules, and may only impose them in full accordance with the rules.

The first thing you should do is get a copy of the HOA rules, if you haven't already--see what your obligations are, your potential liability, etc. Second, if on the face of it, you could possibly be liable, in order to avoid the cost and uncertainty of litigation, maybe see if you could work it out with the HOA--for example, if you paid a $300 - $500 fine, to reflect that you did not technically follow the rules, would they be satisfied and ratify your action? (If you come to an agreement, make sure to get it in writing.)

If  you may be liable and/or even if you think you are not, if the HOA maintains you are and appears inclinced to seek fines, and you and the HOA cannot work anything out, then retain a lawyer with HOA experience to help you.


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