1. Read the Rules
The covenants, conditions, and restrictions, or CC&Rs in association-speak, may cover the dissolution process. If you can’t find the copy you got when you closed on your home, ask the community board for the CC&Rs.
2. Check Your State Law
Your state may have laws about terminating homeowners associations. Florida’s Market Records Title Act automatically extinguishes an HOA’s covenants if the homeowners association doesn’t renew itself by recording the proper paperwork in the public records every 30 years, says Donna Berger, executive director of the Community Association Network, a Florida lobbying group representing homeowners associations.
Without the covenants, there are no rules for the HOA to enforce. If the homeowners association then doesn’t pay its annual corporate fee to the state, Florida will administratively dissolve the HOA. “That’s the lazy person’s way to get rid of your HOA [in Florida] and that’s what tends to happen,” Berger says.
3. Find Out If Anyone Else Wants to Get Rid of Your HOA
It takes a village to get rid of an association, or in the case of many CC&Rs, a “yes” vote from 80% of the homeowners or members via petition or referendum. If a homeowner doesn’t vote, that counts as a no, not a yes.
And good luck getting those “yes” votes from lenders that own any vacant, foreclosed homes in your community. They’re busy dealing with the foreclosure mess, and wouldn’t want to get involved in community politics even if they had time to respond to your request.
4. Determine What to do with Community Property
In a homeowners association, you own your home and lot and you’ll still own them after you get rid of your HOA. But your community association likely owns something, too, like the common space, playgrounds, pools, tennis courts, roads, or walking paths.
Figure out what’s going to happen to everything the HOA owns. Can you sell the open space and divide the profits, or pass the pool off to a not-for-profit sports organization? Maybe you can talk local elected officials into accepting the community association’s land, but only if there’s something in it for them.
If the association owns assets no one wants to buy, like a walking path, you’re probably not going to get rid of your HOA anytime soon. Here’s the rub:
- If you get rid of the association but not its property, such as a walking path, the path still belongs to everyone who owns a home in the association.
- You’ve wiped out the association’s ability to raise funds, but not its need to buy liability insurance that covers the walking path or its obligation to maintain the path.
- Since everyone in the community still owns the path, you’re all potentially liable if someone trips and falls jogging on the path, explains Gary Poliakoff, the founding principal of the Hollywood, Fla., law firm of Becker & Poliakoff, and author of New Neighborhoods: The Consumer’s Guide to Condominium, Co-op, and HOA Living (Emerald Book Co., 2009)
5. Hire a Lawyer
Getting rid of your HOA is a legal process, so you’re going to need a lawyer. If you’re trying to get rid of your HOA and the current board isn’t down with your plans, you’ll be paying those legal fees yourself. Legal experts guesstimate those fees would start at $10,000 and go up if there’s opposition to getting rid of your HOA.
It’s possible that others in your community would agree to help pay the legal bill if they support your plans to do away with the association, but you can’t make a board pay your legal tab. Ironically, a board opposed to your plan will likely spend the dues you and everyone else pays to hire a lawyer to defend its right to continue to exist.
An Alternative to Getting Rid of Your HOA
If you just want to stop paying dues, there may be an easier way to get what you want. Maybe your HOA can give away the common amenities and then vote to reduce the dues to zero. The community association still exists, but it no longer collects dues. Someday, you and your neighbors could rouse it, but for now, it’s just lying there doing nothing — which is what you wanted all along, right?
Related: Crazy HOA Rules and Local Laws