How to Get Out of Paying HOA Fees

Michael Warford

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Michael Warford

February 11th, 2021
Updated February 11th, 2021

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How to get out of HOA fees | Three types of HOA fees | What happens if you don’t pay the regular HOA fees? | What happens if you don’t pay HOA special assessments? | What happens if you don't pay HOA fines? | Can I refuse an HOA fee increase? | How can I reduce HOA fees?

pile of HOA fees

One of the least-loved aspects of living in a homeowners association (HOA) is paying fees. From regular monthly dues to fines for painting your mailbox the wrong color, HOA fees can quickly add up. For a single-family home, the average fees will set you back $200 to $300 a month on average, according to Realtor.com.

That’s a lot of money to spend on top of your mortgage payments and property taxes. So, you may be wondering: do you have to pay HOA fees?

The short answer, unfortunately, is yes. In most cases, HOA fees are mandatory and not paying them comes with serious consequences.

However, situations exist that may enable you to opt out of your HOA fees or, at least, get them reduced. Let’s look at when opting out of your HOA fees is possible and how to do it.

» MORE: What Is an HOA?

How to get out of HOA fees

Opting out of HOA fees isn’t easy and it may be impossible depending on your situation. Whether you can or not depends a lot on what kind of HOA fees you are paying. We go into more detail about different types of HOA fees below.

Generally speaking, you have three routes to not paying your HOA fees:

  • Opting out of your HOA entirely
  • Declaring Chapter 7 bankruptcy
  • Selling your house and moving

Option one is difficult. If you live in a mandatory HOA — which is what most HOAs are — you will have a very hard time getting out of it. This is a route open only to homeowners in exceptional circumstances, such as the HOA going defunct or your property being physically separated from the rest of the community.

» MORE: How to Opt Out of an HOA

The second option, declaring bankruptcy, is also extreme and we don’t recommend it, especially if you are only declaring bankruptcy because you don’t like your HOA fees. That said, if you do declare bankruptcy, your HOA fees from before the date of bankruptcy may be discharged.

The problem, however, is that you may also lose your house. Plus, your credit rating will take a knock that will take years to recover from. So, it's not an ideal situation.

The final and best way to opt out of HOA dues is to move. If that sounds extreme, consider that selling your home:

  • Is usually a lot easier than opting out of an HOA
  • Is a lot less damaging to your finances than declaring bankruptcy

Selling gives you the most control over your HOA fees because you can choose whether or not to live in an HOA next. Consider your current HOA situation as a learning experience and one that you hopefully won’t repeat in the future.

If you’re worried that the costs associated with moving will negate whatever benefits you may get from no longer paying HOA fees, there are ways to save. Our agent-matching service helps you keep the costs of selling to a minimum. Fill in your zip code below to see how Clever can help.

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Three types of HOA fees

Regular fees
Special assessments
Fines
  • Paid regularly (usually monthly)
  • Cover regular, fixed expenses
  • Mandatory and can rarely be contested
  • Tend to increase over time
  • Non-payment can lead to a lien on your property
  • One-off fees
  • Covers large or unexpected expenses
  • Usually requires a vote if for a non-urgent project
  • No vote required for emergency projects
  • Size of assessment varies based on need
  • Mandatory, but can be disputed
  • Issued for rule violations
  • Can be disputed, but must still be paid
  • May be issued by the board or by a property management company
  • Size of fine varies by expense and by HOA

There are three types of HOA fees:

  • Regular fees or dues
  • Special Assessments
  • Fines

When most people think of HOA fees, they usually think about regular fees or dues. These are the mandatory fees you pay on a regular basis (usually monthly) in order to remain a member of your HOA.

Your regular fees go toward fixed, ongoing expenses that your HOA must cover, including for:

  • Insurance
  • Maintenance
  • Third-party vendor contracts
  • Upkeep
  • Landscaping
  • Contributions to the reserve fund

» MORE: What Do HOA Fees Cover (and Are They Worth It)?

When you live in a community governed by an HOA, you must pay your regular fees. Opting out of them is almost always impossible, and there are serious consequences if you don’t pay.

Because regular fees only cover expected and routine expenses, when a large or unexpected expense arises, your HOA may have to issue a special assessment. This is a one-off fee designed to address large expenses.

Special assessments are also usually mandatory and non-negotiable, especially if they are for an emergency repair. As with regular fees, not paying your special assessment has consequences.

However, if your HOA wants to issue a special assessment for something that isn’t urgent — such as refurbishing the marina’s cafe — then they may need the support of a majority of HOA members.

Finally, fines are issued for violations of the HOA’s Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions (CC&Rs); bylaws; and rules and regulations. The specific violations you can be fined for depend on what your HOA has outlawed. They can range from parking an RV in your driveway to letting your maple tree grow above an allowed height.

While your HOA is within its rights to issue fines, you have the right to dispute them. Generally, fines are easier to fight against than regular fees and special assessments.

What happens if you don’t pay your regular HOA fees?

Regular HOA fees are the most difficult type of HOA fee to opt out of. So long as you are part of a mandatory HOA — which is the most common type of HOA — you will be required to pay your HOA fees. Only if you are a member of a voluntary HOA can you opt out.

You can find out if your fees are mandatory by checking the Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions (CC&Rs) that came with your house. The CC&Rs will say whether membership — and the fees that come with it — is mandatory for whoever owns the property.

Of course, as we mentioned above, you can also get out of paying HOA fees by opting out of your HOA altogether or declaring bankruptcy. Those options, however, are either very difficult or terrible for your finances and credit.

The best option is almost always to sell your home and move elsewhere. Clever can help you get started by connecting you with a real estate agent in your area who can introduce you to homes with lower or no HOA fees.

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Simply not paying your regular fees is not a good idea, no matter how high or unfair you think they are. Your HOA can issue a range of penalties, including:

  • Denying you access to shared facilities
  • Sending your account to a collection agency
  • Seizing your rental income (if you rent out your home)
  • Putting a lien on your property
  • Filing a lawsuit against you (and holding you responsible for their attorney fees)
  • Evicting you and foreclosing on your property (in some states only)

If some of those measures sound extreme, they should serve as a reminder of how risky it is to stop paying your dues.

The good news is that if you do fall behind on your HOA fees, you may be able to negotiate a solution with your HOA’s board of directors. While it is unlikely that they will be willing to lower or dismiss your fees, they may be able to arrange a payment plan.

In fact, in some states, such as Colorado, HOAs are required to negotiate a payment plan in good faith with delinquent members before resorting to more drastic collection efforts.

What happens if you don’t pay HOA special assessments?

The consequences of not paying your special assessments are largely the same as if you don’t pay your regular dues. That includes having a lien put on your property and, in some states, even having your house foreclosed on.

However, you often have more ways of disputing a special assessment than you do regular fees. Whether or not you succeed depends on what the special assessment is being used for, how much it is, and whether you can get enough of your fellow HOA members to support you.

Also, your right to dispute a special assessment will depend on which state you live in. For example, if you are in California and your HOA proposes a special assessment that exceeds five percent of that year’s budget, they need to get it approved by a majority of members.

However, there’s one big caveat to that rule: if the special assessment is for an urgent health or safety issue, the board doesn’t need the approval of its members.

So, you’ll have a better chance objecting to the board trying to add stone cherubs to the community’s fountain than you will if they need a special assessment to fix a black mold issue.

What happens if you don't pay your HOA fines?

When you live in an HOA, you agree to live by the community’s rules, which are outlined in the Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions (CC&Rs), bylaws, and rules and regulations.

Break the rules, and you may have to pay a fine. Unfortunately, if you live in a mandatory HOA, your HOA is fully within its rights to issue fines for violations. Fines are issued for a host of reasons depending on the HOA, but some of the most common reasons are:

  • Parking violations
  • Noise complaints
  • Holiday decorations
  • Prohibited pets
  • Garbage
  • Exterior modifications
  • Landscaping violations
  • Smoking
  • Unapproved rentals

While fines are one of the more annoying aspects of living in an HOA, they are less likely to lead to a lien or foreclosure than missing regular dues. That said, don’t test your HOA’s patience by racking up a pile of fines and refusing to pay them!

Also, you have more options for disputing a fine than you do disputing regular fees or even special assessments. The first step is to talk to your board. They are fellow homeowners, and they may be receptive to your complaint.

If negotiating with your board fails, your next step is to appeal your fine. This usually consists of writing a letter to your board outlining why you are objecting to the fine. Keep it brief and stick only to the facts.

It may be a good idea to get an attorney to help you with this letter. There is a chance that your complaint could reach the courts, at which point anything you put into writing could end up before a judge.

When appealing a fine, you will help your case if:

  • You already corrected the problem
  • The issue has been present for a long time (i.e., you were fined for painting your garage blue despite it being that color for 10 years)
  • The "violation" is protected by state or federal law (i.e., you installed a ramp because you or one of your residents use a wheelchair)
  • A previous board gave you permission
  • You have the support of your neighbors
  • Many other households in the community are committing the same violation without getting fined

Typically there will then be a meeting with the board allowing you to explain your case in person. The board will then vote whether or not to dismiss or reduce the fine.

If the board votes to keep the fine in place, you can still take your case to the courts. If it gets to that point, talk to an attorney. Keep in mind that legal fees can add up, and they may quickly cost more than the actual fine. Consider carefully whether legal action is worthwhile or if you would be better off just paying the fine and moving on.

Can I refuse an HOA fee increase?

HOA fees increase in most communities over time, typically once every year in order to keep up with inflation and the cost of expenses. Because most HOAs are non-profit corporations, their regular fees should only be high enough to cover regular and routine expenses.

» MORE: Why Are HOA Fees So High?

If you feel like your HOA fees are going up too much, you can’t refuse to pay the increase outright, but you can dispute it. In most states, HOA members have the right to vote on the HOA’s annual budget, including increases to fees. Get a majority of your fellow members on your side, and you may be able to overturn a fee increase.

But be aware of the consequences of doing so. You may find that your HOA had a very good reason for increasing fees in the first place. If fees are not high enough, the HOA may have trouble keeping up with maintenance and upkeep. That could lead to lower property values or to an expensive special assessment in the future if an unaddressed issue turns into a major problem.

Also, verify that your HOA’s fee increase is actually permitted. The Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions (CC&Rs) that govern the HOA may actually cap fee increases by a percentage or dollar amount.

Additionally, some states have legal limits on HOA fee increases, although these caps are usually quite high. In Arizona, for example, HOAs must keep fee increases to under 20% per year.

How can I reduce HOA fees?

If you can’t opt out of your HOA fees, the next best thing is to try to reduce them. You can do this by getting more involved with how your HOA is run. As an HOA member, you have the right to vote on your HOA’s policies, attend meetings, elect the board of directors, and even run for the board itself.

Lack of involvement from members is something that many HOAs struggle with. One survey found that 96% of respondents in HOAs said apathy/lack of involvement was a very serious or moderately serious problem in their HOA.

This lack of involvement often means that in many HOAs a small group of people — those who actually get involved with running the HOA — wields a lot of power. If you want to change how things are run, showing up for meetings and getting support for your ideas from other members is the best way to do it.

And if you want to have even more of a say, run for the board. Getting elected will give you power over how the HOA spends its money, including over which third-party vendors it hires and what services it provides for members. Take control of these costs, and you may be able to reduce HOA fees for not just yourself but for everyone in the community.

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