9 Reasons You Need An HOA Attorney

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An HOA attorney might seem unnecessary for some planned communities — especially smaller neighborhoods. However, they are integral to the HOA’s functioning. They provide much-needed legal counsel and representation when the association has to deal with matters of the law. 

Why Do You Need an HOA Attorney?

There are several reasons why hiring an HOA lawyer for homeowners associations is important. 

1. Legal Compliance

Homeowners associations are typically subject to HOA laws and non-profit corporation legislation. Interpreting these laws can be difficult, but understanding them is necessary to remain compliant. 

Additionally, these laws impose certain requirements on community associations. For example, California law states that members have a right to inspect and copy the HOA’s books and records — with a few limitations. 

HOAs must be aware of these requirements and comply accordingly. They must also stay updated on any changes in law to avoid liability. This is where an HOA lawyer comes in handy. Local HOA lawyers are familiar with state law, so they should be able to guide the association in dealing with these issues.

2. Legal Representation

The HOA board has a fiduciary responsibility to the community it serves. However, homeowners and board members may not always agree. In the worst-case scenario, some homeowners may even file a lawsuit against the HOA because they’re unhappy with the way things run. 

An HOA disputes attorney is essential for legal representation in this case. The attorney can defend the board and help them find a good solution. They can also handle smaller disputes that may arise within the community. 

3. Dispute Resolution

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HOA attorneys are experts at resolving disputes between two parties. Hence, they can facilitate arbitration or mediation to resolve community disputes. This prevents homeowners from resorting to litigation, saving both time and money. It also protects the community’s reputation. 

4. Governing Document Interpretation

The governing documents are legally binding on homeowners associations. However, they are not always easy to understand. Many governing documents are vague, while some use confusing language. An experienced HOA attorney can help by interpreting what the governing documents might be saying.

For example, a homeowners association’s governing documents might only say that the HOA’s maintenance responsibilities are limited to the common areas. If an HOA has trouble defining common areas, they can turn to the HOA attorney for a clearer interpretation. 

5. Governing Document Amendment

Although an association’s governing documents may be legally binding, they are not unchangeable. Many associations amend their governing documents every so often. This usually happens when the HOA’s rules are outdated or no longer applicable to the community. 

Unfortunately, amending the governing documents is no easy feat. It can take time and requires a lot of work. The HOA board should ensure that the changes do not conflict with other provisions of the governing documents. They also cannot go against federal, state, or local laws. HOAs should ideally hire an HOA attorney to assist them when drafting the amendments to minimize liability. 

6. Assessment Collection

HOA assessments are the lifeblood of every homeowners association. After all, they are the community’s main source of funds. The HOA cannot pay vendors to perform its maintenance obligations without them. However, some homeowners might make late payments or even fail to pay their fees.

In these cases, HOAs do everything they can to collect delinquent fees. The association might impose late payments, charge interest, or even revoke a homeowner’s rights and privileges. Still, these can only go so far. 

HOAs in dire need of funds may take further action by placing a lien on the property or filing a lawsuit. An HOA attorney can help navigate these processes and ensure the HOA avoids liability while collecting assessments.

7. Rule Enforcement

HOA attorneys are usually well-versed in rule enforcement. If the board is having trouble dealing with a stubborn repeat offender, an attorney may be able to help you make sure they comply. They may advise when to send violation notices, how much to impose in fines, and how to pursue legal action when needed. 

8. Legal Counsel

Homeowners associations need legal counsel for a variety of issues. After all, HOAs are legal entities subject to several laws and ordinances. An attorney can provide legal advice when the HOA is unsure of certain issues. Attorneys can also help the board make wiser decisions when laws and the governing documents are too vague.

9. Training and Education

An attorney may be able to provide training and education sessions for the HOA board and residents. Through these sessions, the homeowners can understand their rights and responsibilities while living under the HOA’s governance. This promotes compliance and understanding within the community and reduces conflict. 

How to Find an HOA Attorney

An HOA attorney should be qualified to help the association with all its legal issues. But qualifications are not the only thing that matters when it comes to hiring legal professionals. Several factors come into play. 

1. Set a Budget

As much as an HOA needs an attorney, they should only hire one within budget. The cost of an HOA lawyer can vary depending on the location, experience, and specialization. Remember to ask about attorney fees before you hire any candidate. 

On average, attorneys in California charge around $162 to $422 per hour. Some companies also have different fee structures. They may charge a monthly retainer package or a flat-fee rate. The monthly retainer package is usually best for communities that need constant communication with an attorney. However, it can cost thousands of dollars annually, making it a good option only if the HOA needs several consultations. 

2. Determine Your Needs

What are the most important services for your homeowners association? Does the HOA have a problem with collecting assessments? Is it having trouble understanding state law? Are there numerous disputes and lawsuits between the board and homeowners?

After identifying needs, looking into attorneys who specialize in these areas is important. Most experienced HOA lawyers should be able to handle all of these issues. However, you can also ask them how they handled these issues while working with other communities.

3. Find Local Lawyers

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You must look for local lawyers to help you. This is because hiring a Nevada lawyer might be no use if you’re in California. They might not be as familiar with state or local laws, making them unable to help you with compliance or navigate legal issues. 

It’s fairly easy to look for lawyers in your location. Simply run a Google search and type in “HOA attorneys near me” or “HOA lawyers near me.” You should be able to find several reputable law firms and attorneys who can help you. The Community Associations Institute (CAI) also provides a service directory of all lawyer members with a background in association law. 

Alternatively, you can also look for lawyers through word-of-mouth recommendations. Ask family members, friends, or neighborhood residents if they know of local HOA lawyers. They can provide you with good referrals and even give their honest opinions about the lawyer in question. 

Finally, HOAs can ask their management company for legal assistance. Some management companies offer this service, while others do not. Remember to ask your HOA manager if they can refer any good lawyers. These companies are often well-connected and know several local attorneys. 

However, if there are no local HOA attorneys in your area, you can hire an attorney specializing in contractual or business law. They can help with things involving the governing documents and vendor contracts.

4. Conduct Interviews

Finding lawyers is only half the challenge. Make sure to interview the top candidates before you make a decision. Ask about their experience in HOA law and what they specialize in. The board should also ask them about the HOA’s specific needs to ensure they can speak competently on those matters. 

Interviews are also a great opportunity to establish rapport. The HOA should feel comfortable talking about its needs with the attorney. Moreover, there should be enough trust between the HOA and the attorney for any progress to be made. 

5. Negotiate Rates

Don’t be afraid to negotiate rates if the HOA needs a lawyer in the short or long term. Doing so can be intimidating since lawyers can usually hold their ground. Nonetheless, boards must seek the best rates to save money. Negotiation might also be easier if you’re hiring an attorney on retainer because you’re paying them more. 

A Necessary Hire

HOAs often wait until they’re in legal trouble before they hire an HOA attorney. However, hiring an attorney when it’s urgent can lead to poor negotiations and financial decisions. Look for an attorney beforehand to carefully consider their rates and experience. Hiring one now can even prevent you from getting into legal problems altogether.

Personalized Property Management is an industry-leading management company that serves communities across Southern California. Call us now at 760-325-9500 or email us at info@ppminternet.com for more information!