Disputes arise when condo owners refuse to abide by a HOA’s rules

Those living in the Philadelphia area who desire to own their own home have a choice to make between buying a stand-alone home and purchasing a condominium unit. For those considering buying a condominium unit, Money Crashers notes that there are pros and cons. Among the pros is increased affordability, access to a variety of amenities such as swimming pools and tennis courts and having the homeowners' association perform all of the outside maintenance. Among the cons are condominium HOA fees, less privacy and slower appreciation in value than a stand-alone home.

Another drawback for some people is that condominium living means that "you have to live by the management's rules." When you purchase a condominium, you agree to abide by the written documents governing the condominium such as the declaration of condominium and the HOA rules and regulations. Many condominiums tend to have a lot of rules and regulations and, for some people-as observed by Money Crashers-this "can be stifling." Some condo owners make a conscious decision to do as they wish regardless of the rules. When unit owners deliberately ignore HOA rules and regulations, the HOA often feels it has no choice except to take legal action against what it views as an impermissible violation of association rules and regulations.

The Hilltop Summit case

A recently decided Pennsylvania case, Hilltop Summit Condominium Association v. Hope, illustrates the fact that reasonable HOA rules and regulations will be enforced by the courts. The Hilltop Summit Condominium consisted of 260 units. The defendant's third-story condominium unit had access to an attic space as did all third-story units. The attic space served all units in the building and was considered to be a part of the condominium's common areas. The attic was maintained and insured by the HOA. The defendant decided to remodel the portion of the attic located above his unit in order to create a closet.

Hilltop's rules and regulations clearly and plainly prohibited unit owners from making any "structural modifications or alterations" to units or to common areas without previously submitting plans and specifications and "securing the HOA's written approval." Furthermore, the rules permitted the HOA to seek injunctive relief and damages in the event a unit owner made unapproved additions or alterations.

Hilltop sued the defendant unit owner. A Pennsylvania court awarded an injunction to Hilltop enjoining the defendant from violating the HOA's rules. The court also ordered that the defendant permit the HOA to enter his unit in order to restore the attic to its original condition. Finally, the defendant was ordered to reimburse Hilltop for the cost of restoring the attic to its original condition.

The defendant appealed and argued that the HOA had not shown that the alterations were structurally unsound. The Pennsylvania appellate court found that the quality of the alterations was totally irrelevant. The plain fact of the matter was that the defendant unit owner had no right to make the unapproved changes converting a portion of the attic into his own personal closet space. Accordingly, the trial court decision in favor of Hilltop was affirmed.

Seeking legal counsel

A condominium HOA cannot allow unit owners to unilaterally make whatever additions or renovations they desire in violation of the condominium's rules. An HOA board which finds itself in a dispute with a unit owner over alleged violations of the HOA's rules and regulations should contact a Pennsylvania attorney experienced in condominium law in order to obtain advice on how to handle the dispute.