HOA Suing me for bird seed on the ground

27 Replies

hi, I live in a townhouse style condo and have both an HOA and a Condo board. The HOA has send me about 3 or 4 threatening letters over the last 6 months for various things. One more recent issue was they had a lawyer send me a letter telling me to take down the bird feeder or they will bill me for pest removal services. I took down the bird feeder then received another letter saying they were going ahead with suing me because there's still bird seed around on the ground. Now, other people have had bird feeders. Bird feeders are not expressly prohibited. They are quoting some line about modifying the common area. But there are Christmas lights, other decorations and such people have done to the 'common area' and are not being sued. Another thing is, they are sending these registered letters from the lawer to my husband as well in duplicate. I own the house, why is he getting letters? Any advice on how you would deal with this HOA board in my position?

Bird feeders are issues in many venues. In Juneau, Alaska you can actually get a ticket for having bird feeders out as they attract bears. Other towns prohibit them because it supports a nuisance squirrel population. Critters cause damage. Perhaps the insurance policy the board has on the property has language requiring them to prohibit things that attract pests. I would imagine in your case, the issue is with the seed on the ground that attracts vermin. Perhaps there is a problem in your area with pests, and this is how they mitigate it. Regardless, communication is key. If you feel you are being singled out asked to see the language within the bylaws that says you cannot do this. Or, simply take down the bird feeder. Birds have been living millions of years without being fed by humans. Many are actually very smart and able to sustain themselves completely in nature.

Thank you Mike for responding.  There has not been a bird feeder up for months and there is not really any seed around on the ground. I believe their initial concern was due to pigeons. I don't see any pigeon around either.

I've looked up all their cases at the courthouse and they are all about people owing the HOA money. I don't see any cases outside of that so this would be their first and yes, I feel singled out. Around the beginning of this my husband had put up a sign prior to our elections about a representative he supports. They made him take the sign down but perhaps they held that against us because it was a different party than they support.

HOAs are such PIAs. If they cite you for something others are doing collect contemporanous pictures of the same violations in case you have to go to court or HOA meeting. I dont deal with them for the most part but you might also find out who is driving the complaints and try to get a specific written policy on violations of the "common area" at an HOA meeting. Alternately a strong lawyer might be able to stop harrassment if they are just citing you but not others and it is not specific in the bylaws.

I would clear your area of any bird seed and take pictures.  Challenge the violation.  In all associations, there is an appeals process.  You should activate this process.  Usually there are homeowners on the board who will hear the appeal.  Take pictures of all the offenders throughout the community to show that you are being singled out as this was removed months ago and theirs still remain.

If it were me, I would also send a letter along with the pictures to the board requesting that they stop harrassing you, and withdraw their suit.

Are you behind in your HOA payment? Why are they suing you? And for what? What are they looking to "get" out of suing you? Do they want you to move out?

Did they specify the grounds for the suit and the damages they are looking to collect? I'm talking specific dates of violation and financial numbers? If not, it's likely a bluff. At worst, they will sue you for the cost of the pest removal services plus their legal fees. I would make a written offer to the HOA to cover any pest removal services approved by both you and the HOA board if you think they're not bluffing.

Unfortunately if it goes to court, the judge will almost always rule in favor of the HOA (at least in NY) unless you can prove gross negligence by the HOA. Having that written offer (as long as you can prove they received it) might get you out of having to pay for their legal fees (which you still pay for as part of your HOA fees).

Hi Cara, no not behind in dues. Possibly money? possibly get us to move out?. I've made a list of who on the board lives where so I could see who lives closer and may be the person with the biggest issue against me. One of those houses I've seen pest control services at a lot and have seen pigeons on their roof but I don't think the owner lives there.  One other lives further down the road and the others are not close. I like your idea of cleaning up the area and taking photos. 

Hi Jeff, the first notice to remove the feeder had info on costs of pest control services. This second notice just said that despite my having removed the feeder that they are going to still pursue legal action. I don't really want to offer them money for their pest control services. I give them enough money. HOA and Condo dues are over $400 a month and they don't do much for them other than garbage removal, a small park and this. I'm going to wait and see if there's another alternative to that for the time being. I may go door to door to see how other neighbors feel about the HOA....

What about the fact that they are sending letters as well to my husband who is not a property owner nor a point of contact ever given to them? Is that anything I can use for an argument?

Let them take you to court . Then you demand a jury trial . Then ask them to provide evidence that the bird seed belongs to you . Do they have proof that you placed it there ?   Eye witnesses ?     

Another thing to do in the mean time , read your HOA rules carefully . Then find and report each and every infraction you can find , but dont sign it . Make them follow the letter of the rules on everyone . Then as part of discovery , demand to see how they handled the complaints . Look hardest at the president and the board members .

Originally posted by @Marie Barrett :

What about the fact that they are sending letters as well to my husband who is not a property owner nor a point of contact ever given to them? Is that anything I can use for an argument?

 If you were served proper notice, then I don't see why sending duplicate notice to another contact, appropriate or not, has any effect on the grounds of legal action. You should send pictures of the cleanup and a note saying you have complied with their request for removal and cleanup in an appropriate timeframe and have been responsive to their notices. They have not yet taken "legal action" but are still threatening to do so, whatever that means. This might be your opportunity to de-escalate and write in response(in the most professional way possible), look I'm complying with your silly requests, what else are you looking to achieve now that I have complied? I would request they reach out to you over the phone to understand what can be done to resolve their outstanding complaint surrounding this matter. Clearly, they are not identifying their end- goal. maybe a neighbor has pest control bill they want paid, something simple like that. While this doesnt mean you have to pay their bill, it just helps you understand what the underlying issue is. If its bigger, then you know to get your attorney involved. But this seems like a communication problem, where they are not trying to settle this direct and want instead to arbitrate via attorney, which is a poor choice of initial negotiation. Otherwise, consult an attorney as necessary.

Originally posted by @Matthew Paul :

Let them take you to court . Then you demand a jury trial . Then ask them to provide evidence that the bird seed belongs to you . Do they have proof that you placed it there ?   Eye witnesses ?     

Another thing to do in the mean time , read your HOA rules carefully . Then find and report each and every infraction you can find , but dont sign it . Make them follow the letter of the rules on everyone . Then as part of discovery , demand to see how they handled the complaints . Look hardest at the president and the board members .

In addition to Matthew Paul's suggestion I would also counter-sue them for abuse of process, and name not only the HOA, but individual board members as well.

Counter to the advise already given it is my opinion you are taking on a expensive war you can not win. You may win a battle but you will never win a war against your "landlord". Your HOA is in control and if you want to appease them and live happily you will get farther with honey than vinegar. Arrange to meet with them and ask to iron out your problems so that you and they will be happy.

Make piece or move. In the end landlords (HOAs) will always win.

Originally posted by @Marie Barrett :

Thank you all for your wonderful responses. I feel better able to handle the situation. What about asking for mediation?

 It seems like the typical order of addressing violations is to follow the violation policy in the bylaws (letters, request hearing with board, fines etc.), then if those are exhausted, seek legal action.  The more you know about your bylaws and what the process defined there is, the better you can figure out if they followed that (or they skipped this against their own policy) or if there is an opportunity for you to request a hearing and see what the continued violation is about. You need to be responding in writing to establish a paper trail, but it also would help if you called the property manager or called the attorney that wrote those letters. They might be able to provide more information on what they are seeking. Gather information and try to listen. Mediation is something the court provides as an alternative to proceeding with a court case and is usually provided by court services. There are private mediation services, but you havent found out what they are seeking and why you havent been able to resolve it on your own... You're not there yet and want to be pursuing all avenues to avoid getting to court. It's usually in everyone's best interest.

They went from a letter warning not to put seed on the ground under the feeder, to a cease and desist from the lawyer about the feeder to a letter from their lawyer saying legal action will still be taken even though the feeder is down. That's been their order of addressing it.

Tom, I agree. I've been studying up on the board, seeing when the next elections are.... 

I was feeding finches, blue jays, cardinals and some other songbirds. Then some pigeons started being a nuisance which is what I think they are upset about but the pigeons have been around this neighborhood since as long as I can remember and it was only last summer I started with the feeder. I will admit there was more of them with the feeder but it's not up anymore :-(

I don't even think the condo area around my place is even HOA common ground which is what they are claiming. I think it's the condo board that should have come after me if anything. But maybe the condo is just a child of the HOA.

It was my bad for not looking more closely at the letter until now and noticing that it is from the condo board and not the HOA. It just so happens that the new president of the condo board lives in the condo attached to mine. :-( so it is most certainly her doing the complaining and making the fuss. Thank you all for helping me figure this all out today! Based on everything discussed, I sent this response off to the lawyer tonight -

Hello Mr -----,

Could you please send me a full copy of my condo boards ByLaws as early as possible. It appears I'm only allowed to correspond with you and the condo board does not have a shared document repository. It's the ------ Condo Association.

You mention in your letter dated --- paragraph -- to me that the --- Condo association through --- requested previously on multiple occasions that you (I) remove bird feeders from the Associations common area property and that you (I) discontinue feeding birds with the association. - Please provide copies of theses 'multiple requests' that were supposedly made prior to your -- letter because I know not of them. I know of only one letter that stated 'Do not put food on the ground' which I was not doing, so I ignored it.

I would also like to be informed of the Condo Associations official Due Process for addressing violations as it appears to be quite different than that of the parent HOA. I know the HOA sends several warnings and then has an internal hearing where grievances can be made prior to any lawyers involvement. This case seems to have gone straight to your law firm.

I noticed you are also sending letters to my husband who is not an owner of this property nor have I ever added him as a point of contact so please cease and desist in sending him anything. ---l the property manager from --- knows this so I am guessing the condo board member also by-passed her.

Furthermore, if you wish to share with my your evidence (photos/dates/times) that it is me putting bird food out after the bird feeder has been removed I would appreciate it.

Originally posted by @Marie Barrett :

Tom, I agree. I've been studying up on the board, seeing when the next elections are.... 

I was feeding finches, blue jays, cardinals and some other songbirds. Then some pigeons started being a nuisance which is what I think they are upset about but the pigeons have been around this neighborhood since as long as I can remember and it was only last summer I started with the feeder. I will admit there was more of them with the feeder but it's not up anymore :-(

I don't even think the condo area around my place is even HOA common ground which is what they are claiming. I think it's the condo board that should have come after me if anything. But maybe the condo is just a child of the HOA.

Care to mention which sign your husband posted?

They can threaten all they want but the governing docs state the procedures that must be followed. And if you are sued it will be with community money. If that is done to further a political agenda... you can force them to defend that decision in the next election.

I would stop writing -- you are only providing your opponent with evidence.

You may want to consider moving. If your neighbor is the cause of this, which it seems to be the case, I can’t imagine being comfortable there. If you want to stay then I would knock on the neighbors door and try to make peace.

@Marie Barrett I would definitely try to resolve the issue without going to court if possible. Be careful what you say in letters to their attorney as they may use it against you if they actually take you to court. State that you are attempting to comply but would like clarification of the violations and the accompanying rules and leave it at that.

As for your neighbor, if you feel they are the source of your problem, try to befriend them but play dumb about the problem unless they make it clear they have a problem with you. You might try taking them some homemade cookies and tell them that it struck you that you didn’t know them very well and you were hoping to get to know them better. It might also be helpful to mention that you are always looking for ways to help improve the neighborhood and would love to hear their ideas. If things don’t improve it’s either someone else or it’s simply time to move before they make your life a nightmare.

Free eBook from BiggerPockets!

Ultimate Beginner's Guide Book Cover

Join BiggerPockets and get The Ultimate Beginner's Guide to Real Estate Investing for FREE - read by more than 100,000 people - AND get exclusive real estate investing tips, tricks and techniques delivered straight to your inbox twice weekly!

  • Actionable advice for getting started,
  • Discover the 10 Most Lucrative Real Estate Niches,
  • Learn how to get started with or without money,
  • Explore Real-Life Strategies for Building Wealth,
  • And a LOT more.

We hate spam just as much as you

Create Lasting Wealth Through Real Estate

Join the millions of people achieving financial freedom through the power of real estate investing

Start here