Brief: A Bill of Rights for Homeowners in Associations:
Principles of Consumer Protection and Sample Model Statute
Andrew Kochera, AARP Public
Associations in common-interest communities (such
as homeowners associations or condominium associations) play a valuable
role in modern America, and generally operate amicably to the mutual
benefit of residents. For instance, they may:
- Provide a number of amenities (such as parks,
pools, and club houses) that would be difficult to procure from many
cash-strapped local governments.
- Set architectural standards and maintenance
requirements that help reassure residents that their investment in
the community is well protected.
- Provide opportunities for neighbors to meet and
socialize, helping foster a sense of community.
- Maintain private streets, remove snow, and even
collect garbage, thereaby relieving local governments from those
AARP Public Policy analysis indicates that in
2003, 46 percent of owners in single-family homeowner associations were
over the age of 50, as were 56 percent of owners in condominium/coop
Along with the advantages of association life,
there may also arise disputes between homeowners and their association.
Association rules regarding participation in the association elections
process, levying of fines, and procedures for resolving disputes through
an objective third party can have a profound impact on the quality and
enjoyment of community life. Many disagreements and disputes can be
settled rather easily, but some can escalate even to the point where
ownership of the home is at risk. The use of foreclosure as an
enforcement tool is controversial (especially in states that permit
foreclosure without a court hearing) and can be devastating to a
household. The consequences of disputes can be particularly severe for
older homeowners, whose homes typically represent their single largest
The Bill of Rights for Homeowners in Associations
outlines a set of ten principles (or “rights”) and model statutory
language that states can follow when developing laws and regulatory
procedures for common-interest communities. Additionally, associations
themselves can use these principles and the concepts in the model
statute explanatory discussions when developing or modifying their own
governing documents. The issues addressed are applicable to all forms of
Bill of Rights for Homeowners
- The Right to Security against Foreclosure
An association shall not foreclose against a homeowner except for
significant unpaid assessments, and any such foreclosure shall
require judicial review to ensure fairness.
- The Right to Resolve Disputes without
Homeowners and associations will have available alternative dispute
resolution (ADR), although both parties preserve the right to
- The Right to Fairness in Litigation
Where there is litigation between an association and a homeowner,
and the homeowner prevails, the association shall pay attorney fees
to a reasonable level.
- The Right to Be Told of All Rules and
Homeowners shall be told—before buying—of the association’s
broad powers, and the association may not exercise any power not
clearly disclosed to the homeowner if the power unreasonably
interferes with homeownership.
- The Right to Stability in Rules and Charges
Homeowners shall have rights to vote to create, amend, or terminate
deed restrictions and other important documents. Where an
association’s directors have power to change operating rules, the
homeowners shall have notice and an opportunity, by majority vote,
to override new rules and charges.
- The Right to Individual Autonomy
Homeowners shall not surrender any essential rights of individual
autonomy because they live in a common-interest community.
Homeowners shall have the right to peaceful advocacy during
elections and other votes as well as use of common areas.
- The Right to Oversight of Associations and
Homeowners shall have reasonable access to records and meetings, as
well as specified abilities to call special meetings, to obtain
oversight of elections and other votes, and to recall directors.
- The Right to Vote and Run for Office
Homeowners shall have well-defined voting rights, including secret
ballots, and no director shall have a conflict of interest.
- The Right to Reasonable Associations and
Associations, their directors and other agents, shall act reasonably
in exercising their power over homeowners.
- The Right to an Ombudsperson for Homeowners
Homeowners shall have fair interpretation of their rights through
the state Office of Ombudsperson for Homeowners. The ombudsperson
will enable state oversight where needed, and increases available
information for all concerned.
by Andrew Kochera, AARP Public Policy Institute
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