When I moved into my new home, the rules and regulations of our Homeowner’s Association didn’t say anything about owning chickens. Now that I’m ready to buy some nice laying hens for the backyard, I’ve found out that there is a new rule prohibiting owners from having chickens on the property. This seems wrong -- is the Association really allowed to pass new rules any time it wants to?
You might not like to hear this, but the answer is generally “yes.” The Board of Directors of a Homeowner’s Association (HOA) typically has the power to pass new rules and regulations governing the community.
The specific rules and regulations governing your community, and the procedures for changing them, can be found in your HOA's governing documents. These include the Articles of Incorporation creating the Homeowner’s Association, the Bylaws, the Declaration (sometimes called the CC&R’s, or the “Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions”), and the Rules and Regulations.
The governing documents give the board the power to create new rules, and describe the procedures the board must follow to adopt new rules. For example, in some HOAs the board must give notice to the owners and/or allow the owners to vote on a new rule before implementing it.
Most HOA boards have wide discretion to make new rules, including rules limiting pets or other animals, so long as it follows the procedures for enacting rules found in the governing documents, and provided the rules do not violate any federal or state law. For example, a new rule cannot violate the Federal Fair Housing Act, which protects people from housing discrimination based on such things as race, national origin, or handicap.
Sometimes a new rule will include an exception to “grandfather” in something that was previously allowed. So, for example, the new rule against chickens may allow owners who already have chickens to keep them. But since you didn’t own hens at the time the rule was adopted, it looks like you’ll need to get your fresh eggs somewhere else!
For more information, see the articles on the "Living Under a Homeowners' Association" page of Nolo's website.