HOA trying to limit interior decor. Can they do this?

33 Replies

In one of my groups, a condo owner has received a notice from the HOA board:

"Unit owners shall be responsible for painting their limited common elements (earlier defined to include interior walls, wallpaper, and flooring); provided, however, the color, materials, and design of limited common elements may not be changed without the prior written consent of all the Unit Owners."

This is in response to another owner replacing carpet with LVP, and the adjacent owner (who is on the board) can now "hear everything."

I didn't think HOA had any control over what is in the interior of units.

Any HOA Experts out there?

@Linda Weygant

It depends on the state. In NC, the following definition applies to common elements:

"Common elements" means any real estate within a planned community owned or leased by the association, other than a lot.

So  unless owned by the association and leased, then no they may not.

@Mindy Jensen Yes an HOA./Condo Association can have rules regarding the interior of units. They merely need to be in the condo rules. It is not uncommon here to see condos that require carpet, or a certain percentage of the floors to be covered with area rugs.

Same in CA. We lived in a condo where we had tenants above us. The HOA bylaws stated that specific plans in the community couldn't have any other type of flooring in the room directly above the owner below. So each unit was 2 stories, if your floor plan had the living room above another neighbor's unit, that room can only have carpet. If you have the living room above a garage, you aren't required to have carpet and you can have tile or laminate or hardwood flooring. :(

My understanding is that each state has its own sound transmission limitations for multi-dwelling units. The HOA is responsible for monitoring that owners do not violate the state and local sound transmission limitations. Which is why most HOAs have some note in the Rules and Regulations about changing flooring / wall materials.

Originally posted by @Wes M. :

It depends on the state. In NC, the following definition applies to common elements:

"Common elements" means any real estate within a planned community owned or leased by the association, other than a lot.

So  unless owned by the association and leased, then no they may not.

Earlier in the by-laws, limited common elements are defined:

"All decks, patios and balconies, utilities within each unit, furnaces and any air conditioning, appliances, unit windows and doors, unit floor coverings, all interior sheetrock and wall coverings, shall be deemed limited common elements."

Most of this seems reasonable. The parts that are weird and stick out to me are:
-appliances
-wall coverings
-floor coverings

Based on this definition, my refrigerator, my wallpaper/paint, and my rugs are all "limited common elements" and subject to the unanimous written approval process. That just seems absurd.

I did find the following in the Colorado Common Interest Ownership Act:

"(1) Except as provided by the declaration:
(a) If walls, floors, or ceilings are designated as boundaries of a unit, all lath, furring, wallboard, plasterboard, plaster, paneling, tiles, wallpaper, paint, and finished flooring and any other materials constituting any part of the finished surfaces thereof are a part of the unit, and all other portions of the walls, floors, or ceilings are a part of the common elements."

Unfortunately, I think that "Except as provided by the declaration" portion may be their out.

The same act defines Declaration:
""Declaration" means any recorded instruments however denominated, that create a common interest community, including any amendments to those instruments and also including, but not limited to, plats and maps."

Originally posted by @Joseph Celes :

My understanding is that each state has its own sound transmission limitations for multi-dwelling units. The HOA is responsible for monitoring that owners do not violate the state and local sound transmission limitations. Which is why most HOAs have some note in the Rules and Regulations about changing flooring / wall materials.

 
I think that enforcing sound transmission requirements would be fair. However, that is not how the rule is phrased. The HOA is requiring written approval of any changes, including paint color, from every Unit Owner prior to any changes being made. This seems excessive, and to set up owners for discrimination.

What if one neighbor doesn't like me? Can I then not paint my interior walls?

@Sarah Miller

I totally agree that the rule, as written, is over reaching in its current form. 

But since the unit owner changed the flooring, I think the HOA is falling back on that specific phrase to allow it to enforce state and local limits. My bet is that they'll have to use more specific language moving forward or face discrimination backlash moving forward.

I had never heard of HOA limiting interior items but the flooring makes sense due to the sounds transmission from one unit to another. I have had the 1000 lb elephant live above me in an apartment and it does cause a lot of annoyance in day to day life.

I do think the interior color is very strange thing to limit. HOA rules can get crazy and the board members can get on power trips.

Originally posted by @John Barrows :

@Russell Brazil, I suspect I would own that HOA! See them in court!

 I highly doubt that. Ive seen no less than 100 condo buildings with that same rule in place. Condos can make any rules they want as long as they do not violate fair housing laws.

Interesting points made here...  not to hijack anything, but to me the issue here seems more like the thickness of walls/ ceilings might be too thin ( cheaply built).  And thus needing to be reactive, and limiting the ability to customize an owner's Condo interior. 

I've been involved with 1 townhouse acquisitions, and it's an end unit.  We've been happy with the noise level so far, but I can see if we had loud or young neighbors, it could be an issue through the walls.

I can't see them restricting wall colours.  I've had condo associations have rules on window coverings (must have a white or off white liner on curtains or blinds must be white or off white), appliances (ie no washer or dryer in the unit) and flooring (sound proofing).  All of those seem reasonable for a variety of reasons.  I could also seem them restricting certain appliances (giant fridge, gas stove, etc).

Hi Mindy,

Rather than a lawsuit, just pull up the LVP and replace it with carpet and follow the rules (If it's click lock maybe sell it on Craig's list).

Some LVP is more sound deadening that others, and some can have sound deadening padding installed under it.

Some say that footsteps in the unit below are 4 to 8 times louder with LVP, hardwood or tile than with a carpeted floor.

Good Luck!

What is the point of buying your own place, to then not be able to do what you want on the inside? So if someone has bad allergies and needs a hard floor rather than carpet, and can’t, isn’t that discriminatory?

Originally posted by @John Barrows :

@Mindy Jensen, HOA owns outside the units and may not define the interior decors where people live! It's illegal to guide anyone what interior they live within.

 Illegal in what sense? State or federal law?

Condo can regulate a lot of interior items when the result is visible or causes effects outside the unit. It makes plenty of legal and practical sense, just don't buy into them unless you can get on the board.

I've flipped several condo's. At no time were we "hand-cuffed" by the HOA to complete the projects to our specs and or designs. We completed in a timely manner, made money and sold to the happy home owner.

When it comes to FULL DISCLOSURE in real estate, the HOA must make it CLEAR and CONCISE as to what their HOA can make any (POTENTIAL OWNERS) do inside their own property. If the HOA is VAGUE or MISLEADING then you have yourself an issue. MOST ALL HOA's are misleading and DO NOT adequately cover interior arm twisting.

I took my HOA to court (over my house) for what they tried to have me do and guess what, they paid my court costs and judge found that the HOA was over bearing and over stepped their rights and to keep their views to the outside of my house.

The same HOA tried to (strong arm) me into paying for work on land adjacent to my house that (THE PARK OWNED)! Guess how that ended? Yeah, they lost again!

People need to understand the HOA's are set up by the builder and are generally a generic outline/platform and is nothing more then a guide to help keep the area and houses in "cosmetically" eye appealing condition. It's not a regulation that some POWER HUNGRY board director or board get's to impose on others!

That's my experience from two law suites with my previous HOA. They had to pay out of their pockets. Needless to say I sold my house and moved to another community.

As for townhouses/condo's, I find the same issues to be blown out of proportion by (generally) the President of the board. Unfortunately, people are reluctant to stand up for themselves in FEAR they will be harassed and be made an example of by the board people. Of course, everyone says the same "you're only suing yourself"... That is false as well.....

When I lived in a NYC Co-op we had bylaws to follow.  We could paint whatever color we choose but any type of construction work had to be approved by the board and the contractor licensed and insured.  

One specific general rule was that 70% of the unit had to be padded and carpeted (everything but kitchen and bath).  It was a beautiful pre-war building and there was beautiful hardwood floors under the carpet and I did not want to install new carpet over it.  I had the floors sanded and stained. My downstairs neighbor didn't complain but if he did i would say that my furniture covers 70% of the floor.

Limited common elements are common elements of the condo, not the interior of an individual condo unit. The board can't tell a condo owner what color to paint their walls. But many condo HOAs do have house rules that include things like a certain percentage of floor area (not counting kitchens and baths) must be covered by rugs or carpeting (I see 80% a lot). I haven't seen this rule enforced strictly unless their are complaints. In this case it's seems the board member might be conflating the two rules for their own benefit. The condo unit owner needs to read the condo bylaws and house rules to see what is in fact required. 

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Yet another example of how crappy HOA's usually are. It's a shame, they are in place to protect the owners property value, yet almost invariable, end up getting run by power-tripping control freak busy bodies with nothing but time on their hands. It's in the HOA, they agreed to it, I think they are "stuck". On a side note, now is a good time to sell.

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