You found out your HOA plans to make landscaping changes in the neighborhood, but those changes include removing a tree near your property. You might be worried that the tree removal will impact the value of your home. You wonder if the HOA has the power to arbitrarily remove a tree from common property. Most likely, the answer is yes.
How are HOA’s empowered to do this?
Your HOA has a set of covenants, conditions, and restrictions, or CC&Rs, that govern land use within your community. The CC&R’s typically dictate how common land is used and who will maintain it. HOAs retain full responsibility for managing common property and occasionally retain maintenance rights to privately-owned property. This contractual agreement gives HOAs the power to decide how land is used, what it looks like, what must stay—and what must go.
It’s true that these types of changes may impact the value of surrounding homes. A well-maintained green space with lush trees will typically increase value; conversely, removing these spaces may result in an unrealized financial loss. Even when the homeowner has a genuine monetary interest in the HOA’s decisions, the HOA still has the sole right to make those decisions.
What have homeowners done?
Some homeowners have to litigate over tree removal, but the courts in these instances tend to favor the HOA. In a recent case out of New York, homeowners sued their HOA and a single board member for “removal of the tree next to [their] deck” because it “reduced the value of [their] purchase” and was “significantly damaging to [their] interest.” The homeowners had a legitimate concern; removing a tree in the common space next to their home reduced their property value. The court, however, rejected all of the homeowners’ claims, including breach of fiduciary duty, trespass, and malfeasance. The court held that the HOA had legal authority to alter any common space under the agreed-upon CC&Rs.
Homeowners across the country face similar concerns. In Tacoma, WA, homeowners were afraid that large trees straddling their property line may cause costly property damage. The HOA rejected their appeal to remove one of the trees. The homeowners, frustrated by the HOAs response, tried to start the tree removal without approval. This unwise decision landed them a $6,500 fine. In another unique situation Orange County, CA, an HOA contracted for the maintenance rights to homeowners’ front lawns. One homeowner struggled to stop his HOA from removing trees right next to his home. Still, laws across the country typically defer to the HOA as long as it is acting within the power granted in the CC&Rs. This kind of interaction can leave homeowners feeling helpless and frustrated.
What can I do outside of litigation?
While aggressive approaches such as litigation may result in a dead end, homeowners still have the option of communicating directly with their HOAs. Your HOA board operates under a set of rules and a decision-making process. Becoming familiar with these processes, while approaching the board with respect and patience, may provide an opportunity for meaningful dialogue. It is not easy to weigh personal interests with those of the whole community, but that is exactly what the HOA must do. Remember, HOA board members are your neighbors and friends. Approaching them with your concerns—about tree removal or a variety of other issues—should be an amicable process.
In situations like these, it’s easy to cast the HOA board as the “bad guy.” But HOAs are successful across the country because of all the benefits homeowners receive. In return for relinquishing control of certain things like greenspaces, the HOA maintains all of that property. Beautiful greenery throughout the community increases your property value, and you know your home won’t be affected by a lazy neighbor or a dilapidated park. HOAs provide access to a variety of maintenance-free amenities like pools and fitness spaces. In addition, the HOA has contract power than can secure lower rates for home services like providing internet. Perhaps most importantly, the HOA creates a sense of community and provides opportunities to engage in meaningful ways with your neighbors. Though it can be frustrating to relinquish control of certain aspects of your property, the benefits of an HOA certainly outweigh the costs.
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