While homeowners generally have free rein over what they do with their property, the same can’t be said for those living in HOA communities. One of the more restrictive rules associations have is what decorations owners can put up. But, when it comes to lawn jockeys in HOAs, should the board have similar rules?
Should Boards Restrict Lawn Jockeys in HOAs?
Lawn jockeys have a long history in American culture. These are sculptures or statues of a man wearing jockey clothing and holding up one hand. The original idea behind them was to stand in front yards and act as hitching posts for horses. Nowadays, though, they are mostly used in an ornamental manner to evoke the ambiance of the Old South.
One might wonder why lawn jockeys get such a bad rap. They sound similar to garden gnomes, so why would a homeowners association have rules against them?
Unfortunately, lawn jockeys have a history rooted in racism. In fact, historically, lawn jockeys were widely depicted as caricatures of African Americans with exaggerated features. And while most lawn jockeys today are caucasian, they can still carry negative connotations. As such, it is easy to see why they may be considered offensive.
Are HOA Lawn Jockey Restrictions Enforceable?
Homeowners associations generally have the power to enact and enforce rules. These rules are designed to maintain the character and appeal of the community, thereby preserving property values. But, not all rules are enforceable.
For a rule to be enforceable, it must not conflict with federal, state, or local laws. It must have also been enacted in a procedurally correct manner, following the directions outlined within the association’s governing documents. Additionally, the rule must be reasonable, fair, and consistently enforced.
If a rule does not appear in the association’s governing documents, the board typically can’t enforce it. Therefore, unless it is a federal, state, or local law, a rule must be written in the bylaws, CC&Rs, or operating rules. This way, the board has the express authority to enforce the rule.
If an HOA wishes to add a new rule or change an existing one, the board will usually need to amend its documents. A change in CC&Rs would normally require a majority vote of approval from the membership. But, if it is a change in operating rules, the board generally only needs to pass a resolution. That means they don’t need to secure a majority vote from the community’s members.
Lawn Jockeys in HOAs: What Rules Should an HOA Have?
It may seem like the easiest solution is to forbid lawn jockeys altogether, especially if they interfere with the community’s aesthetics. But, a more all-encompassing rule prohibiting inappropriate, offensive, or violent decorations might work better. This way, the rule does not limit itself to lawn jockeys specifically.
Keep in mind that this type of rule can be subjective. What some residents may deem fine, others may deem offensive. This is where the HOA board should exercise good judgment. In general, “inappropriate” covers items that are frightening, gory, sexually suggestive, or offensive in a political or racial way. Lawn jockeys can fall into this category.
Make sure to seek a lawyer to help draft the language of this rule to ensure it does not come off as discriminatory in any way.
Many HOAs already have similar rules in place. Again, it circles back to maintaining the aesthetics of the community and keeping property values high. As such, it is not uncommon to find associations that have existing rules restricting inappropriate, violent or offensive decor. Typically, these rules not only apply to lawn decorations but also extend to holiday decorations, sculptures, and outdoor furniture.
Penalties for Rule Violations in HOAs
When a homeowner breaks a rule, consequences naturally follow. While the exact enforcement process can vary from one HOA to another, they generally follow similar outlines.
Most of the time, the process begins with a warning. The homeowner receives a warning letter from the HOA board, with instructions to remedy the violation within a given timeframe. If the owner fails to comply, the board will usually follow up with a disciplinary hearing. Though, it is worth noting that some HOAs don’t give owners an opportunity to fix the violation and, instead, go straight to the disciplinary hearing step.
The warning letter or disciplinary hearing notice should contain the details of the hearing itself. At a minimum, this includes the date, time, and venue of the hearing. There are also certain notice requirements depending on where the HOA is. For instance, in California, Civil Code Section 5855 requires at least 10 days’ notice for disciplinary action.
At the disciplinary hearing, the homeowner will have a chance to present their case. From there, the board will make a decision on whether or not to pursue disciplinary action. Typically, the board will send a notice of its decision to the owner within a given timeframe. In California, it’s 15 days. Disciplinary action can include charging a fine and temporarily suspending the member’s privileges.
Authority to Impose a Fine or Suspend Privileges
In most cases, homeowners associations do have the power to charge fines and temporarily suspend a member’s privileges as a way of enforcing rules. But, it is best (and sometimes mandatory, as per state law) to include this express authority in the association’s governing documents.
Many associations already have a fine policy and schedule outlined within the CC&Rs. For associations that don’t, it is a good idea to come up with one as soon as possible. The common practice is to charge fines for each day a violation goes unaddressed as opposed to charging a one-time fine.
When determining how much to charge, there are a few considerations to make. The first is state laws. Some states place a cap on how much an HOA can charge, while others don’t.
Other considerations include location and the demographic of the residents in the community. A $20 fine can seem like nothing to residents in wealthier communities. Some might even risk the fine since it barely makes a dent in their budget.
Finally, it is important to tailor the fine amount according to the gravity of the violation. If it is a minor or first-time offense, it can start out small at around $25, compounding as the violation remains unaddressed. But, safety and health violations can understandably carry a heftier fine.
Walking a Thin Line
It is never easy to balance decoration rules with homeowner satisfaction. Many homeowners just want the ability to decorate their homes as they please. But, as with lawn jockeys in HOAs, these decorations don’t always add value to the community. Sometimes, they can even disparage the community’s image and turn off potential residents. Whatever the case, if an HOA intends to restrict such ornaments, it should take the necessary steps to include the restriction in its governing documents.
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