By: Bohan Gao Edited by: Ashlyn Bi August 30, 2023
The narrative of the Fair Housing Act has failed to protect the American people. As a result, the American story continues to hold chapters that exclude the voices of our most marginalized communities. It is far past time that this story has a new beginning: one that starts with a critical examination of Homeowners Associations.
Homeowners Associations, known as HOAs, are private organizations that supervise the management of neighborhoods and residential communities, establishing bylaws for them to follow. Though this supervision seems necessary, the primary issue with HOAs is the discriminatory system with which they operate. A comprehensive study from Business Insider in 2020 found that neighborhoods with HOAs have, on average, more white residents and fewer black tenants than non-HOA areas. This discrimination is mainly due to the inherently racist language within HOA contracts, as Business Insider finds that most HOAs use “racially restrictive” language in their documents. For instance, a “Caucasian-only” restriction in a Floridian neighborhood prevented a woman from buying a home in 2019.
Even further, studies report that the rampant discrimination within HOAs stems from a lack of diversity in their leadership and consequent stereotyping of “foreigners.” New York City, home to the largest Chinatown in the state, contains an all-white HOA board of executives. As a result, minority communities in the area suffer from racist policies and discriminatory behavior. In 2019, three Asian residents were fined for a petty HOA violation (unsafe fencing), even though their white neighbors’ violations went disregarded.
Marginalized groups find themselves excluded from communities under HOA supervision. In most cases, these people have no avenue for justice. There is an immense cost for suing HOAs; the process takes extremely long and is far too expensive for the average American. According to the RSF Post in 2020, suing an HOA costs $240,000 at minimum. Even if the case was won, there would continue to be additional costs. YourHub finds in 2022 that, when suing an HOA, the plaintiff is also up against an insurance company and the HOA’s property management company lawyers. Winning the case would result in a special assessment on all other homeowners—including the plaintiff—to pay for HOA liability/damages/legal costs. And if the plaintiff is contesting the actions of the HOA property management company, they will have to sue the HOA who hired and managed them as well. In the end, the chance of winning the case in the first place is unlikely as the RSF Post finds that courts tend to side with an HOA over homeowners.
HOAs target minority groups through rampant discrimination within their homogenous leadership and contract policies, further aggravated by the difficulty of holding them accountable in court. Even further, their culpability in the declining state of our environment is worsened by the consequences for our most marginalized global citizens because climate change disproportionately affects disadvantaged groups who lack the resources to combat its effects. It is time to start critically looking at our HOAs and bringing about a change.
Assadi, Leila. “Homeowners Associations Reflect Systemic Racism.” Spartan Shield, Jan 10, 2023. https://spartanshield.org/36524/opinion/homeowners-associations-reflect-systemic-racism/.
Coloradohoaforum. “HOAs Can Be Sued: Proceed with Caution”, YourHub, June 12, 2022. https://yourhub.denverpost.com/blog/2022/06/hoas-can-be-sued-proceed-with-caution/279745/.
Green Hill Report. “Are HOAs as Much the Villain as Fossil Fuels? | Climate,” January 11, 2022. https://gallantgoldhillreporter.com/2021/10/16/give-it-up-hoas-americans-want-to-act-on-climate/.
HOA-USA. “Home Owner Association | HOA throughout the United States,” July 17, 2023. https://hoa-usa.com/.
Trubey, Phil. “So, You Want to Sue Your HOA?” RSF Post, May 11, 2020.