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Most homeowners that live in neighborhood subdivisions will have some sort of Homeowner’s Association (HOA) in place with the goal of keeping minimum standards in order to protect the neighborhood property values. Periodically they will make the rounds in the neighborhood and look for any issues that need to be addressed – so if you have missing pickets in your privacy fence or have leaning posts you are likely to get a courtesy notice to make repairs within a timeframe. If repairs are not made, most HOA organizations are authorized to make repairs on the homeowner’s behalf and submit the bill to you for payment – including taking the issue to court with fines and penalties. Remember all those papers you signed at the closing when you purchased your home? The HOA papers were part of that package.
The first step when you receive the letter is to review what request the HOA has made – just replacing a few missing pickets is an easy job, repairing a long section of leaning fence is more involved and can be more expensive. Often the repair request will include pictures the show the issue – if you are unclear what the HOA has flagged then contact them for more explanation.
TIP – Always keep a record of your interactions with the HOA, by email or letter is best (save a copy) or if you call them on the phone make sure to take notes of who you talked to and when as well as the important details of the conversation.
If the repair is not something you can do immediately, the next step is to understand what your obligations are and what timeframe is allowed for you to make the repairs. Most HOA will have two official documents, the Bylaws and the Covenants, Conditions & Restrictions (CCRs). In general, the HOA By-Laws are the basic set of rules or “laws” the HOA uses to operate and self-govern; the CC&Rs govern what an owner may, may not, or must do with respect to the real estate. Review the documents to find the sections that pertain to fences – often there will be several sections that have content applying to fence requirements.
TIP – If the HOA repair notice includes statements about the requirements for the fence repair, be sure to verify for yourself! We’ve seen many examples where the HOA is wrong – in one case they send the first notice with a $25 fine and after reviewing the documents the homeowner had 30 days from the first notice to make the repairs before any fines could be assessed. Even though the documents make for boring reading, remember the bylaws and CCRs also define the rules that the HOA must follow. If you know the facts you can have confidence in your actions!
In the following example of a typical HOA document, the HOA will define the requirements but cannot mandate the method used to meet the requirements.
Fence maintenance shall be the responsibility of the Owner and all damage shall be repaired within thirty days of written notification by the Association. It shall be a violation of this Declaration to maintain any fence in such a manner as to allow (i) any portion of a fence to lean so that the fence’s axis is more than five (5) degrees out of a perpendicular alignment with its base, or (ii) missing, loose, or damaged stone or wood rails in the fence, or (iii) symbols, writings, or other graffiti on the fence.
A leaning fence is not allowed, but the HOA cannot demand that the owner replace the section of fence – if the owner straightens the fence it will meet the requirements and the HOA is obligated to accept the repair (see our article on Temporary Fence Repairs for more details). Digging out the fence post and concrete footing is always the most difficult part of the fence repair – make the job much easier by using the Wood Post Puller to push the post and concrete footing out of the ground on a layer of mud using the water pressure from your garden hose.
After you have made the repair, it is a good idea to snap a picture showing that the fence requirements have been met and include a date/time stamp just in case. The pictures should be taken from public viewpoint for best effect, match the perspective of the photos received in the HOA repair notice if possible to show that the issue was fixed. If another storm blows thru and causes more damage you will want to be able to show the HOA that it was fixed and the new damage is a separate event – doing this should reset the timer you have to complete the repairs – the HOA probably doesn’t keep track of every issue closely so they might not notice you’ve fixed the fence and will just assume it is the same issue.
Two final notes:
Dealing with Homeowner’s Associations can be very frustrating with strong emotions from people. To be the most successful, keep all interactions professional and about the facts – it is likely that you are dealing with a representative from the HOA that is paid close to minimum wage that is just trying to do their job, so getting angry at them won’t help your case.
The guidelines given are general pointers and practices to follow, your situation will depend on the HOA bylaws and CCRs in place as well as state and local laws for your area. The information provided is not a substitute for a local attorney’s legal advice.