To paraphrase the Declaration of Independence, all men and women are created equal with certain inalienable rights, including life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. That may not be the case if you live in a condominium, co-op, or HOA, however. Unlike a private home, living in a ‘common interest community’ represents a commitment to cooperative living—and along with that commitment come rules and regulations that just don’t come up in a single-family setting. For example, if you own a free-standing, detached house and have a disagreement with a landscaper, you can feel free to place a large sign on your front lawn that warns your neighbors not to do business with him or her. But that won’t fly in an HOA.
Owners’ Rights vs. Association Rights
According to Ellen Shapiro, a condominium association attorney with Goodman, Shapiro & Lombardi, which has offices in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island: “Within the confines of their four walls, [a unit owner’s] home is their castle. That being said, they have to be aware that unfettered rights which they have, can possibly be fettered at some point in the future because condominium documents are subject to change and amendment. You start out with the premise that their home is their castle, the same as in a single-family home.”
Further, Howard Goldman, an attorney specializing in association law at Goldman & Pease, located in Needham, Massachusetts, points out that “a resident has the right and expectation to be treated fairly and professionally by the trustees and/or the management, and to have reasonable inquiries responded to in a timely manner. This is to set the table so as not to create a situation where the unit owners are the bad guys. That’s not a good dynamic.”
From a practical point of view, Shapiro explains that condominium owners have the following rights vis-a-vis the association. “The property will be properly maintained, things such as exterior maintenance, insurance will be paid, grass will be mowed and snow will be plowed, and the roof won’t leak, things of that nature. Everything that is external to their unit will be taken care of and addressed so as not to damage their unit.”
In Massachusetts, each condominium association has a master deed, a declaration of trust, bylaws and rules and regulations. “A unit owner,” says Goldman, “is subject to all these documents. Regulations can be amended by the trustees only by majority vote. The condominium documents need to be amended by both trustee and member approval.”