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How to avoid discrimination claims against your HOA

For the board of directors of a Homeowners’ Association, avoiding lawsuits is among the most critical goals in your work. The cost and time associated with defending a lawsuit can be disastrous to your HOA’s bottom line, and this is true even for a winning lawsuit.

Discrimination claims are among the most common lawsuits brought against HOAs. Whether it’s denial of housing or simply enforcing some of the HOA’s rules, any action you take has the potential to be construed as a form of discrimination. Make sure you know the laws and regulations governing discrimination in housing.

Essential HOA Discrimination Laws

The Homeowners’ Protection Bureau of Michigan lays out the general schema for HOA laws throughout the state. These laws will be similar, though not exact, to laws across the country.

Federal Law

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) governs discrimination claims based on disabilities. The ADA prohibits discrimination against disabled persons in several areas, including public accommodations and employment. While most HOAs will only be concerned with the public accommodations piece, employment discrimination could be a concern for larger HOAs with paid employees.

For claims based on racial discrimination, the Fair Housing Act (FHA) governs. Enacted in 1964, the FHA is meant to protect people from discrimination based on color, sex, familial status and national origin. The FHA can severely restrict an HOA’s regulations limiting access to facilities within the neighborhood. For example, even limiting children’s access to a pool run by the HOA could be viewed as age discrimination.

Michigan Law

One Michigan law you should understand is the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act, which declares as a civil right freedom from discrimination based on religion, race, color, national origin, age, sex, height, weight, familial status, or marital status. It prohibits the prevention of access to employment, housing and public services based on these factors.

Basically, this act applies the ADA and the FHA at the state level, and it is particularly applicable to housing.

HOAs: Know Your Rights and Know the Rules

All these laws are extremely complicated and nuanced, and this list of relevant laws and regulations is far from exhaustive. It is difficult to know which laws apply, how they apply and the relevant impact they could have.

The most important thing you can do is consult with an experienced HOA lawyer who can help you craft your bylaws and enforce rules to avoid exposure to discrimination claims.

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