Americans like to think of their homes as their castles, where their word is law. Of course, homeowners have limits to what they can do with their own homes. That’s especially true for owners of condominiums and other homes that are subject to a homeowners association.

Homeowners associations, or HOAs, are powerful entities that control many apartment buildings and other multi-family dwellings. In order to buy a home controlled by an HOA, buyers must join the HOA and abide by its rules.

HOA rules can be strict, and their enforcement can be unpredictable, but it’s important for homeowners to remember they have rights.

Some things HOAs can’t do

While HOAs are powerful, their power is limited by federal and Oregon law. For instance, HOAs are subject to state and federal anti-discrimination laws that prohibit housing discrimination on the basis of race, sex, religion, age, disability and other protected characteristics.

State and federal laws can limit the power of HOAs in more mundane areas, as well. For instance, HOAs in many other states may, in the interest of maintaining a uniform appearance to their dwellings, impose a rule against the installation of satellite television dishes. This type of rule is expressly prohibited under federal law.

Similarly, HOAs in many states have rules prohibiting their members from hanging their clothes to dry on clotheslines. At least one Oregon HOA has tried to ban clotheslines, but this type of rule is prohibited under Oregon law.

The right to a hearing

Perhaps the most fundamental right HOA members have is the right to a hearing. If they have a dispute with their HOA, members should consult their HOA rules to see if they have an in-house hearing process. If not, or if the in-house method fails to produce good results, homeowners may have the right to go to trial.

A lawyer who has experience with HOA law can help homeowners resolve disputes with HOAs. Attorneys can advise homeowners on their options, represent them at hearings and beyond and help them defend their rights so they can enjoy their homes in peace.