6 Surefire Ways to (Legally!) Annoy Your HOA

published Dec 29, 2023
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I remember an old episode of a house-flipping show, where the new homeowners were forced to repaint their home’s exterior a different color. Was it buyer’s remorse? Nope, the decision was spurred by a visit from a homeowner’s association (HOA) board member, who informed them the greige they had chosen was not, in fact, on the list of approved exterior paint colors.

The purpose of an HOA is to make and enforce the rules of a housing community. Some rules are plainly common sense, like not blasting music past a certain hour. Some are trivial, like not being able to install a cute dog-shaped mailbox because everyone’s mailbox on the block has to match. Sure, it’s a free country, but if you “rebel” with that mailbox, expect a fine or at least a sternly worded letter from the HOA board.

Navigating the strict rules and regulations of an HOA “requires a blend of due diligence and tactful negotiation,” Dave Flanders, owner at HomeVisors Collective, a Connecticut-based real estate solutions and educational company. He says homeowners should start with a thorough review of all HOA guidelines, conditions, and restrictions.

“Be sure to communicate openly and honestly with your HOA board, especially when you’re considering changes to your property that might borderline on rule violations,” says Flanders. It’s the best way to prevent conflicts and fines, he explains.

If you live in a home that’s part of an HOA, you’ll not only have to play by the rules, but you’ll have to pay monthly fees too. While withholding monthly fees until your HOA gives in is not advised, there are some ways in which you might be able to rebel without getting in trouble.

6 Ways to Annoy Your HOA Without Getting Fined… Maybe

1. Install Solar Panels

This is one way to make a departure from the otherwise similar rooflines of an HOA. While solar laws do exist in a number of states that protect the rights of the homeowner to their solar power, you’ll want to make sure that your state has your back before investing upwards of $10,000.

Is It Worth It? Solar panel installation isn’t a fly-by-night decision. If you’re the first in your HOA to have them installed, you should definitely check in with the HOA.

2. Plant a Protected Species of Plant

There are state and federal laws that prohibit touching endangered plants and flowers. A gutsy gardener might take that as carte blanche to plant a garden full of them — even if the HOA stipulates no gardening other than what they hire the landscapers to do.

Is It Worth It? If you really enjoy gardening and can somehow preserve/replant your new green friends in case the HOA does rule against you, then go for it. But don’t harm plants just to prove a point.

3. Install Accessibility Upgrades

If you have limited physical mobility that is preventing you from easily accessing your own home, then no HOA should be able to stop you from installing a ramp, wider doors, or any other accessibility feature in or around your home, per the federal Fair Housing Act

Is It Worth It? As with all major renovation projects, it’s best to check in first with your HOA before you hire a contractor to avoid hassle, delays, and misspent money.

4. Get a Service Pet

If you demonstrate a need for a service pet, this can usually supersede any HOA’s no-pet policy. However, it is strongly urged that you get approval first so that you don’t have to surrender your beloved pet to live in your new place.

Is It Worth It? Your needs are important, but please tread carefully with any decisions related to the welfare of animals.

5. Use All the Amenities, All the Time

We’re not suggesting you go swimming after hours or host a barbecue when the grilling area has been closed for the season. But those amenities are there for you to use as much as you want, so go ahead and squeeze out every dollar of those HOA fees by enjoying the perks and amenities of your community.

Is It Worth It? You might hear the occasional snide remark that you reserved the community party room again, but unless there’s a limit in the bylaws, party on.

6. Get Nominated to the HOA Board

The phrase, “If you can’t beat them, join them,” wasn’t first coined by a member of an HOA, but it might as well have been. The best way to initiate change is to get involved with those capable of making the change happen; in this case, the HOA board. Now, you might be livid over a strict rule, but try your best to keep a positive and professional outlook — if only so that your neighbors will be willing to cast their vote for you in the next HOA board election.

Is It Worth It? It could be. For starters, look at the HOA board meeting schedule and consider if it’s worth the time commitment.

What About Displaying Flags Representing a Protected Class?

There’s some well-meaning advice shared on the internet regarding dealing with troublesome HOAs. One nugget says that even if your HOA prohibits flags or lawn decor, go ahead and display something protected by the Fair Housing Act, which prohibits discrimination against, among other things, national origin, sexual orientation, familial status, and religion. But even in support of freedom of speech and expression, you might indeed be fighting a losing battle if you flout any HOA regulations. 

In short, if the HOA says “no flags,” then you could face a fine for letting any flag fly, even if your neighbors happen to be in full support of what that flag represents.

Is Your Gripe with the HOA Worth the Headache?

There are indeed some HOA laws that serve no real purpose in keeping the peace of a community. But no one should feel unsafe or discriminated against in their own home. 

With this in mind, if you are considering buying a home in an HOA known for its strict rules — and there are many out there — read them before submitting your offer. If you find you are unable or unwilling to abide by them, you can save yourself a lot of trouble later.