The sole purpose for an HOA, or homeowners' association is to maintain the properties' values through enforcing the community’s covenants and maintaining the common areas. A covenant is a promise to do something or not to do something. For example, you can promise to keep your grass at a certain level or not blast your music after a certain time.
In short, HOAs help keep your community looking nice. They are typically nonprofit organizations, created by the community's developer.
Each planned community or condominium development typically has covenants, conditions and restrictions. Together, these are the rules and regulations of your community. Think of them as the laws specific to your community
Understanding a Homeowners' Association
Once you buy a home in a planned community or a condo unit you are automatically a member of the HOA and subject to its laws. This is because one of the documents you sign at closing states that you have read the Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions, or CC&Rs, and agree to follow them. CC&Rs are like laws, but only for your community. Before signing your mortgage, read over the covenants, restrictions and regulations, as well as the HOA governing documents, as closely as possible.
These documents tell you the specific name of the homeowners association, the amount of the annual HOA dues and when they are due. If you are not given a copy of this document, ask for one. Failure to pay HOA dues are one of the most common reasons liens are filed.
Read More: How to Sue a Homeowners Association
The HOA's Role to Preserve the Community
The HOA, in turn, is subject to the state's property laws and its own governing documents. It is also bound by the laws in the agreement you signed. The association has a responsibility to preserve your community and to protect its value and, ultimately, your home.The HOA maintains areas such as the community pool, playground and landscaping.
Everyone’s annual fees go toward this maintenance. So when one person fails to pay their dues, there is a disruption in the upkeep of the community. Filing a lien against a homeowner who is in noncompliance is a tool the HOA has to enforce the agreement the homeowner signed at closing.
Filing a Lien Against a Homeowner
If a homeowner is late with paying their dues, the HOA should check its bylaws to determine the next steps to take. Then, it should make a demand for the past-due amount and give the homeowner thirty days to pay.
If the homeowner is still not in compliance after receiving the demand letter and a lien already exists, the HOA just has to go to the appropriate court to make it public record. This way, the HOA can proceed with a possible judgment or have the lien properly attached to the deed, so anyone who is interested in buying your home will know that there is a debt that must be satisfied first.
The HOA should go to the nearest county clerk’s office and ask for an HOA form to fill out. The local county recorder of deeds should be able to provide the HOA with the proper forms for this situation.
Filling Out the Forms
Generally, the form requires the name of the city and county where the property is located, the address of the property the lien is being filed against and the name and address of the homeowners association. The association then has to provide the amount of the lien, the date the homeowner became delinquent and the reason the association has chosen to file the lien.
The lien should be filed with the recorder of deeds at the county level, along with the appropriate fee. The recorder of deeds should then file a copy of the notice to the homeowner or direct the homeowners association to do so.
In most cases, the association will have one year following the filing of the lien to bring a lawsuit against the delinquent home owner. If the HOA prevails in court, it can foreclose on the property.
Melissa McCall is an accomplished lawyer, science journalist and legal analyst. She graduated cum laude from Syracuse University in 2003 and spent two years as a Judicial Law Clerk, followed by 2 years at a general litigation firm and a brief stint as the Director of Environmental Protection for the Virgin Islands. Since leaving the US Virgin Islands, she has worked as a legal recruiter, legal writer and legal analyst.