Living in a California homeowners association (HOA) confers numerous benefits: maintained public spaces, consistency among property quality, and more. In order to secure these advantages, the residents of an HOA pay dues to the governing body to fund communal projects and resources.
However, homeowners may be surprised when they receive an additional bill, usually for work not directly related to their property or the area around their home. This is called an HOA special assessment, and it can take both new and established HOA residents by surprise.
The first instinct of many residents, upon receiving an unexpected and potentially larger than average bill, is to contest it. However, the governing body may have the right to impose this bill depending on the circumstances.
Here is an overview of the legality of special assessments to help homeowners discern if their rights are being properly respected while living in an HOA.
Are California HOA Special Assessments Legal?
In short—yes, California HOAs are permitted to levy special assessments that are required to be paid by all members of the community. However, the means by which the HOA is allowed to do this, as well as the amount due and what the money may be used for, are strictly governed by California law.
Failure to comply with these laws can put the HOA in violation of resident rights leaving them liable for legal action. For this reason, homeowners need to understand how special assessments are designed to work.
What HOA Special Assessments Accomplish
Homeowners must first understand what these bills accomplish for the community. The purpose of a special assessment is to help the HOA cover fees for unusually costly projects, emergency situations, or renovations and upgrades to facilities that affect everyone.
For example, if a tornado where to impact an HOA community by destroying a communal use building, rendering it unsafe to use, the HOA may lack the funds from their regular dues to cover the cost of repair.
In this situation, a special assessment may be levied to collect additional funds to repair the communal area. All residents would be billed an equal portion of the assessed amount necessary to cover the remaining balance for repairs.
Special assessments are often used to repair roads, install new facilities, upgrade existing facilities, or address widespread damage that affects the whole community.
The Rules Governing Special Assessments
Special assessments are an effective way for the HOA governing body to collect money to fund large projects. However, certain rules govern how this type of bill operates to ensure that residents are not regularly faced with excessive assessments for work that should be budgeted into the standard HOA dues.
One of the primary rules surrounding HOA special assessments is that they may only be used for certain classes of work: emergency repairs, upgrades to existing communal infrastructure, repairs of existing public spaces, and so similarly styled projects. Special assessments are not meant to repair a single person’s home or cover work that should be budgeted into regular maintenance.
Additionally, California law limits the amount that can be due for any special assessment to 5% of the HOA’s budgetary allocation for the previous year. This 5% is spread across all residents; this means the entire community will split the 5% evenly among all households.
Sometimes, repairs may require substantial capital that even a 5% special assessment cannot cover. In this situation, the homeowners may elect to meet for a vote. If a quorum is achieved in agreement with a higher bill, the HOA is permitted to collect more than 5% to fund the cost of the project.
This ensures that the majority of homeowners in the community have a choice in funding particularly larger projects rather than being at the selective choice of their governing body.
If you believe your HOA is not levying special assessments properly, speak with an attorney experienced with homeowners associations to defend your rights as a resident.
Get Help Defending Your HOA Rights
An HOA can provide a high-quality, convenient experience to homeowners when managed properly. However, an HOA’s failure to abide by special assessment rules can leave residents financially challenged, their rights having been violated by the governing body.
If you believe that your HOA has not properly applied dues, or if they do not have the authority to do so, speaking with a legal team is the next best step. The attorneys at Lehr Law are experienced in protecting homeowners against improper HOA administration.