Can my HOA tell me I can't fix my car in my driveway?

The HOA can tell you whatever is in its rules -- but check that it's interpreting the rules correctly!

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Question

My HOA is telling me I can’t fix my car in my driveway. Since I own the driveway, it shouldn’t be able to tell me what I can do there right?

Answer

As a matter of fact, the homeowner’s association (HOA) probably does have the right to tell you what you can do in your own driveway -- welcome to the world of planned developments!

Planned developments are typically created and governed by a set of documents, including a Declaration of Covenants, Conditions, Restrictions and Easements (CC&Rs), and separate rules and regulations adopted by the HOA. The terms of the CC&Rs and other regulations commonly include rules relating to an owner’s use of the property within the development (including use of his or her own property). Typical rules and regulations include those governing aesthetic matters, such as rules prohibiting trash left around yards, or requiring periodic lawn mowing.

When you purchase in a development, you agree to abide by the terms and conditions of the governing documents. If the documents governing your development contain rules prohibiting car repairs on the property, the HOA is within its rights to enforce this rule against you.

Ask the HOA to provide you with a copy of the rule or regulation it’s relying on to prohibit your use of your driveway for car repairs. (You can also review the governing documents yourself; if you don’t have a copy in your purchase files, obtain one from the HOA, or from the real estate records in the county where the development is located.)

If there is a rule or regulation clearly prohibiting fixing your car in your driveway, you are essentially out of luck. If you violate the rule, you might be subject to fines, prohibited from using the development’s common areas, or face a lawsuit by the HOA.

You might attempt to amend or revoke the rule; however this is typically a long and difficult process (the required steps for which are likely found in the document containing the rule). A vote of the HOA board of directors, or of all the HOA members (all owners in the development) is commonly required. An experienced attorney in your area can assist you determine what procedures are required and assess the potential for success. You’ll likely find that the best solution is to repair your car somewhere else.

If the HOA can point to no relevant rule, or if you disagree with the HOA’s interpretation of the regulation it’s relying on, first discuss the matter (civilly) with the HOA. Request a meeting with the HOA’s board of directors and bring a copy of the governing documents and the regulation in dispute (if any). If the HOA can’t identify anything in the governing documents that prohibits your use of the driveway, hopefully it will back down, and approve your proposed use. If the HOA board is relying on its interpretation of a general rule (such as a rule prohibiting owners from creating nuisances upon their properties), do your best to convince the board that the rule does not apply to your requested use (for example, assure them you will complete the repair quickly and keep the worksite tidy).

If you can’t reach an agreement with the HOA board, you could repair your car in the driveway despite its objections. However, the HOA might then impose fines or penalties against you for a rule violation.

If you really believe the HOA is out of line, and don’t mind incurring expenses, you might pursue legal action. Start by hiring an attorney to review the governing documents. If the attorney agrees that nothing restricts your right to use your driveway for car repairs, he or she might have better luck convincing the HOA to let you proceed. If that’s not successful, the attorney can advise you on the costs and probability of success if you legally pursue the matter further.

Again, the easiest and cheapest solution might be to repair the car in the garage, or find an alternative location to make those repairs.

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