(St Petersburg, FL USA)
Visitor Question: My neighborhood association deed of restrictions indicates no signs (realtor, etc) can be displayed in front yards. Is this really enforceable?
Editors' Reply: If the deed restriction prohibits real estate sales signs, you can bet that your neighbors know this one. Yes, it's enforceable.
Now let's think about what enforcement looks like. Our basic problem with deed restrictions for dealing with anything important is that the administrative part of the public sector, such as code enforcement and zoning administrators, can't and don't help with enforcement. Literally it takes a court of law to force you to comply.
Will the homeowners association go that far? Probably not, but you never know. You could be the unlucky one who is made a scapegoat for other people's bad behavior.
Your first course of action is to learn what penalties are attached to violating your master deed, covenants, CC&Rs, or whatever they may be called. You should have a copy from when you closed on the property; now it's time to dig into some boring reading.
The HOA or neighborhood association may have the power to take down the offending item, which in your case would be a sign, and to charge you for it. Again, would they do that? It's hard to know; some HOA boards in larger developments would take such actions on a routine basis. Others don't like confrontation and perhaps won’t pursue it.
Another possibility is that there is a fine attached to certain actions. If so, are you prepared to pay the fine? Since you are ready to sell your home, is it worth the risk of having the HOA place a lien on the property that has to be settled at closing if you don't pay as you go along.
Typically the fines are computed on the basis of a certain amount for each day of not complying with the deed restrictions.
Pay attention to the manner in which you are penalized for violating a restriction, and then determine if it's worth it to defy the rule.
Also pay attention to how often the HOA board meets, whether their meetings are open, and whether you are invited. Will there be any opportunity for you to present what you think are your extenuating circumstances that cause you to want to violate the deed restrictions? It's more difficult for amateurs, which almost all HOA boards are, to say no face to face.
If the board meets every six months and doesn't have an enforcement mechanism in place, perhaps you would risk their wrath, on the thought that you would have your residence sold before the next time the group would convene.
But if you don't know about the exact inner workings of the homeowners association board, I would assume that some officer is going to be driving or walking around on a fairly routine basis doing nothing more worthwhile than looking for violations.
This person may well have the authority to act on behalf of the board when a violation is black and white, such as putting up a prohibited sign. So you may face a fine anyway.
This is a lesson learned in terms of paying attention to the deed restrictions before you buy a home; indeed, it's a good thing not to fall in love before you know all the details about the rules. For more, check out the deed restrictions page.
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