Homeowners associations can run into all sorts of legal problems and liability. Rather than attempting to resolve these issues on their own, associations will benefit from hiring an HOA attorney.
What Is an HOA Attorney?
An HOA attorney is simply an attorney who has experience or specializes in dealing with homeowners associations. Believe it or not, there are many legal issues that associations can encounter. These can range from Fair Housing disputes to homeowner lawsuits. And an attorney can greatly help manage all of these.
What Does an HOA Attorney Do?
An attorney can perform a plethora of responsibilities, from reviewing documents to advising the board. But, it can still depend on the types of services an association ends up paying for. That said, here are the ways an HOA attorney can be of service.
1. Interpret the Law and the Governing Documents
Homeowners associations are typically led by volunteer members of the community. More often than not, these members don’t have sufficient legal experience, which can result in a variety of legal violations.
A homeowners association attorney can help HOA boards interpret both the law and the HOA’s governing documents. There are many federal laws that apply to homeowners associations, and even more at the state and local levels. As such, it is best to seek an attorney who practices in the state where the HOA is located.
2. Create New Policies and Amend Governing Documents
Board members will sometimes craft new rules or policies to help keep the community in good shape. Other times, they will need to amend the governing documents to change existing rules. Either way, there is a lot of legalese to get through, and an attorney can help draft and review all of these changes. An attorney can also make sure that new policies or amendments don’t conflict with any laws or existing provisions.
3. Collect Unpaid Dues
In HOA communities, homeowners pay regular dues to the association. Unfortunately, no HOA is immune to the occasional (or frequent) delinquency here and there. An HOA board can’t allow delinquencies to pile up without taking action as it is unfair to paying homeowners. Moreover, without the needed cash inflow, the association won’t be able to pay for expenses.
An HOA attorney can help with dues collection, too. Associations will often refer the delinquent account to an attorney. Associations can also file lawsuits against the homeowner or place a lien on the property. This can even lead to foreclosure proceedings, which an attorney can also assist with.
4. Represent the Association in Litigation
It is best to resolve any disputes internally. As much as possible, HOA boards should avoid going to court because it is a time-consuming and costly process. Additionally, it could create more bad blood between the board and the homeowners in the community. Not to mention, media coverage may paint the HOA in a bad light.
When a case does go to court, though, the association will need an attorney to represent it. An attorney will not only defend the association or the HOA board in court but will also take care of the entire legal process. This includes gathering supporting evidence and going through discovery. Of course, one thing that every HOA board should have is D&O insurance. This coverage will reduce the financial burden on the association when directors and officers are sued.
5. Provide Legal Advice to the Board
Even when the board isn’t creating new policies, collecting delinquencies, or going to court, HOA attorneys still provide a lot of value. At the bare minimum, an attorney can offer expert advice on legal matters concerning the association. If a board member has a question about something that may put the HOA in legal jeopardy, they can easily refer to their attorney. When in doubt, seeking legal advice from an HOA attorney is always best.
How to Hire an HOA Lawyer
When looking for an attorney for your association, there are a few considerations to make. First of all, you must evaluate your needs. Understand what services your association requires or desires. Smaller associations don’t tend to have a huge need for legal counsel because legal issues are few and far between. However, larger associations might face legal issues more often.
Secondly, you must consider your budget. Lawyer fees can vary greatly, and the more well-known firms will obviously charge more. Make sure to check your budget to see how much your association can spend on an attorney.
Finally, you must take reputation into account. An attorney who has a bad reputation or who has faced issues with clients before is definitely not someone you want to hire. Attorneys deal with a lot of issues and information, and most of them are confidential. Thus, you must seek an honest attorney you can trust.
After considering all the above, the next step is to look for an attorney that fits your matrix. If your association employs an HOA management company, they will likely already have attorneys at their disposal. If not, they might have established relationships with third-party law firms. Your HOA can then seek a recommendation.
You can also check out your local chapter of the Community Associations Institute (CAI). They may have a list of attorneys who practice or specialize in community association law. Beyond that, you can do a quick search online or ask friends and family for recommendations.
The Benefits Are Clear
An HOA attorney performs a wide range of responsibilities. Unless you have an experienced lawyer on your board, it is best to seek professional help when it comes to legal matters. You can either hire an HOA management company with an in-house legal team or hire an attorney from a firm or independently. Either way, an attorney will most certainly add value to your community.
Condo Manager provides automated HOA management solutions to homeowners associations and condominiums. We also have software designed specifically for HOA management companies. Call us today at 800-626-1267 or contact us online to schedule a free demo!
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