Over 50 million Americans live in areas governed by homeowner's associations, according to the American Homeowners Resource Center. It's no wonder there is often a struggle between homeowners and their association.
"It's the balance between an individual's right to have whatever they want and what the rules are in a common-interest association," said Robin Seigle, a mediator with the San Diego Mediation Center.
Seigle said residents have to be actively involved in their community, ask questions and be informed.
"You don't get to do anything you want to do when you're in a common-interest development, whether it's an HOA or a condo association," Seigle said.
According to the San Diego Mediation Center, homeowners most often gripe about landscaping issues, putting up fences and walls and how rules are established and enforced.
Benita Skalada, a San Diego homeowner, challenged a decision made by her homeowner's association to ban decorations. A meeting in December 2003 banned all holiday decorations, including pumpkins, Christmas lights and Menorahs.
"They voted and passed a rule saying the only thing you could have was a mat and one potted plant," said Skalada, who can't always attend homeowners meetings due to work and family commitments.
According to attorney Steve Kellman, from Tenants Legal Center of San Diego, homeowners need to be informed about the rules of their community. He advised homeowners to join their homeowner's board.
"I think it's good to get involved in where you live and what's going on around you," Kellman said.
The California Department of Real Estate has a publication called "Living in a California Common Interest Developments\." The publication answers homeowners' frequently asked questions, including: what Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions (CC&R) are; how CC&Rs are enforced; what happens if assessments and fees aren't paid; and what are a homeowner's obligation when selling their home.
Homeowners' rights are protected under California law. For example, homeowners have a right to attend and speak at board meetings. They also have a right to obtain homeowners association records by contacting the association president.
Under California Civil Code section 1365, homeowners have the right to receive the association's financial information. They also have a right to mediation or arbitration of disputes under California Civil Code sections 1354 and 1366.3.
Homeowners have a right to disclosure from their builder, too. The mountain of paperwork can be intimidating to homeowners, but they have to read the disclosures and be aware of their implications.
"There's a lot of paperwork. It's overwhelming," said Seigle. "Most people don't want to read the contract and all those things. All of us who have been through that, we know there are many pages. It's small print, you don't want to look at it. And that's up to you, but then you can't blame somebody else that you didn't know what was in it.