Representing Texas Homeowners Associations & those aggrieved by them

Attorney Trey Wilson handles lawsuits and pre-litigation disputes involving enforcement of restrictive covenants/deed restrictions, Homeowner Association member voting/ballot/proxy issues, HOA Board elections, collection of assessments/dues, placement and removal of liens, CCR/Declaration disputes, developer HOA control/turnover, ACC approval, HOA Board governance, Abuses by Homeowners Associations and drafting/amendment of HOA documents including By-laws.


Deed Restrictions -- They Aren't Always Forever !

Many, many homwoners who are disgruntled with a neighbor or with their own HOA underestimate the importance of closely reading applicable deed restrictions (CC&R's). I'm always amazed at the number of people seeking legal representation against their HOA, but who don't even have a copy of their CCRs or Association By-laws.

That's right. That small type-face, fuzzy, packet you were given at the closing upon your home is importance. Too many times, homeowners either glance over the restrictions just once at closing, or never bother to look at them at all. They then get filed away, or thrown away, with little thought. This is a mistake, though,m because the restrictions can carry tremendous implications for property values, neighnborhood regulation, and assessing the authority of your HOA Board.

In some cases, we have determined that particular CCRs have expired, or that some mandatory condition required to give them continuing force has never occured. In those instances, the restrictions are usually legal nullities that cannot be enforced. When serving as lawyers representing owners against their HOA, a discovery that the CCRs are non-enforceable is a powerful weapon that almost always carries the day. However, the absence of restrictions/covenants cuts both ways, and can carry several negative implications for all property owners in a given development.

Determining the Effectiveness of CCRs:

Covenants/Restrictions are placed upon subdivisions by the original developers who plat them. Those developers then go about selling individual lots to future residents, or selling the enitire development to a homebuilder who then builds homes upon the lots and re-sells them, individually. In either instance, the developer is often long-gone before the subdivision is fully built-out and occupied. Ususally, he's gone-on to develop his next subdivision.

The restrictions enacted by the developer often have expiration dates 20 to 30 years after they are adopted. Those CCRs may also contain procedures to transfer control of the subdivision to a Homeowner's Association (HOA). In those instances, the HOA becomes the "enforcer" of the CCRs. However, unless there is some action taken to extend them, the CCRs still expire.

In other cases, an HOA is never formed, is improperly formed, or is formed before power to enforce the restrictions is properly transferred away from the developer (or his successor). Each of these situations may result in an inability to enforce restrictions.

Good and Bad:

Like all institutions, HOAs have good and bad aspects. Homeowners seem to enjoy the stewardship of HOAs who clean community pools, keep gates in good working order, erect Christmas lights, and prevent cell phone towers from being erected in enighborhoods. But, when the HOA spirals out of control on issues like yard watering, car bumper stickers, backyard swingsets and the like, they can be downright nasty.

In the end, well thought-out, equally-enforced restrictions probably benefit all owners of lots within a given subdivision because they promote uniformity, land-use integrity, and the common interest in preserving home values.

If faced with a dilemna regarding enforceability of CCRS, one should start with a good reading/review of the restrictions, including any expiration dates. When in doubt, contact a lawyer with experience in HOA law, including interpretating and litigating restrictions. A strong HOA lawyer can be an invaluable asset in understanding your rights and responsibilities within the context of community living and community associations.