In Louisiana, HOA’s and the issues that come with them forced the Louisiana legislature to enact the Louisiana Homeowners Association Act in the late 1990’s. Since then, homeowners and associations have clashed over multiple issues including building restrictions and removing property which has been in place for years. In this post, we discuss the Louisiana Homeowners Association Act and some of the more common issues that it addresses.
The Louisiana HOA Act contains definitions which govern certain terms which commonly come up in HOA disputes including “community documents,” “common area,” and “lot.” While an HOA Agreement creates the law between the association and its members, these definitions can be helpful when trying to decipher the legalese often found in the Agreement and HOA Notices. It is important to note that community documents like HOA Agreements are contracts and possess the force of law between the parties.
One of the most common types of conditions set forth in an HOA Agreement are building restrictions, which according to the HOA Act are to be interpreted liberally so as to further their stated purpose and intent which is often found in the community documents. Building restrictions may impose passive duties on homeowners to allow passage, right-of-way, and ingress or egress to the HOA. Unlike servitudes, building restrictions may place an affirmative duty on homeowners to do something i.e. paint house a certain color, yard maintenance, height restrictions.
Building restrictions may be established within the terms of the community documents, but in the event that they are not present, they may be established by a ¾ vote of the lot owners. Further, building restrictions can become more restrictive by a 2/3 vote of lot owners and less restrictive by a more than ½ vote of lot owners. An interesting exception provides that if building restrictions are made more onerous as to set-backs or square footage requirements by a vote, owners of empty lots are exempt from complying with the newer, more restrictive terms.
Time Period to Enforce
Despite community documents regarding building restrictions forming a contractual relationship having the force of law between the parties, an HOA’s failure to enforce restrictions can lead to their loss of the right to do so. Louisiana law states that there can be no action for damages or injunction after two years have passed from the commencement of a noticeable violation.
Louisiana Courts have been consistent in “freeing” properties from restrictions when the HOA failed to enforce them for a period of two years:
- Aucoin v. Copper Meadows Homeowners Association, Inc. – The Third Circuit affirmed the trial court’s ruling that a family who had been parking a trailer in front of their home for over two years could not be sued as their violation was noticeable and the prescription period had passed.
- Audubon Trace Condominium Association, Inc. v. Smith– The Fifth Circuit affirmed the trial court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of a real estate broker who had been placing signs in violation of the HOA documents because more than two years had passed since the commencement of a noticeable violation.
- Distefano v. Wilkerson– The First Circuit affirmed the trial court’s ruling that plaintiff’s claim had prescribed as the defendant’s fences, and bushes had been put in place and in obvious view from the street for more than two years.
The takeaway is that the relationship between a HOA and its homeowners is a contractual relationship with the community documents forming the law between the parties. While building restrictions can be amended by votes of lot owners, some restrictions will not be enforceable on new construction. Further, an HOA’s right to sue for damages or injunctive relief prescribes after two years of a noticeable violation.