After last week’s Advocate column about a homeowners association dispute, readers responded and a pattern emerged: Lots of people can’t get their association boards to tell them where their money is going and they’ve faced resistance when they have tried to document meetings.
The solution, according to Texas HOA experts, is to request information in writing and to be aware of new state laws.
In 2011, the Texas Legislature approved significant changes that will help owners have greater access to HOA information. Most updates applied to non-condo associations. Condo guidelines still remain less detailed.
“They adopted what I call light versions of the open meetings and open records laws that provide a lot of guidance and specific procedures for requesting to inspect and obtain documents from an HOA,” said Austin lawyer Gregory Cagle, a real estate and business litigation attorney who focuses his practice on HOA law.
Now, associations can be sued more easily and cheaply for denying access to records.
“As a general rule, homeowners are permitted to see the books and records of the association and, generally, there are just few things that can be excluded,” said Mitchell Katine, a Houston real estate lawyer who represents HOAs and homeowners.
Minutes as well as vendor, bank account and contract information should be available. Records related to attorney-client privilege are excluded as are employee personnel records. Associations also cannot release an individual owner’s violations, financial history or contact information other than address.
“If an HOA does not reply and provide the records, there is now this procedure where a homeowner can go to a justice of the peace court and get an order requiring the association to provide the records,” Katine said. “Otherwise, associations would not respond, would ignore it, not reply and the homeowner would have no place to go.”
According to the Texas Community Association Advocates, nearly 5 million people reside in HOAs statewide.
“The law requires that they send a written request by certified mail detailing the records they are requesting and electing either to inspect the records in person or, if they want copies, there are certain costs that are outlined in the law,” said TCAA chairwoman Judi Phares, who is based in suburban Dallas.
Cagle’s 800-page “Texas Homeowners Association Law: The Essential Legal Guide for Texas Homeowners Associations and Homeowners” includes sample letters that owners can use to craft their requests. His web site – www.texashoalaw.com – is an additional free resource.