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Texas Homeowners’ Association Rules vs. Municipal Ordinances

Houston, Texas, is a sprawling municipality, encompassing 655 square miles, the largest land area by far of the 10 most populated American cities. [1]  When you travel our city, you quickly realize there are no true commercial, residential or high-rise areas of town, as there are no strict “zoning” laws that regulate development. There are city ordinances, and even “deed restrictions” imposed on various properties, but you will see warehouses next to houses, restaurants next to schools, and generally a less structured format than many other cities in the United States.

Developers and cities work together in Texas and generally effectuate some type of planning when developing “planned unit developments” or subdivisions. Subdivisions can be built within or outside of city limits, within county lines, or in unincorporated areas. It can be difficult to determine whether or what rules, restrictions, or ordinances a home or property is subject to.

Residential communities (urban and suburban) result from development agreements between real estate developers and municipalities (cities), and most of the time those development agreements contain certain covenants, conditions, and restrictions (CCRs) which are privately created rules between parties to the agreement regarding use and improvement of property. Subdivisions are often governed by a Homeowners’ Association, a legal entity created in the document that contains the “rules.” The document is called a “Declaration of Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions” or some variation of that. The CCRs are commonly referred to as homeowners’ association (HOA) rules. The term “deed restriction” is often used interchangeably with “HOA rules” but this is not completely correct. The statutory framework for HOAs is set forth in Chapter 209 of the Texas Property Code.

Becoming a property owner in a development subject to Homeowners’ Association Rules or Restrictions means you automatically agree to live by the restrictions or HOA rules. Whether you purchase a home subject to a property-owners’ association rules, or simply move into a municipality/city, you must comply with both HOA rules and the laws/ordinances of the city, county, state and federal laws. In the suburbs, particularly here in Houston, it is easy to assume there are no additional municipal laws that pertain to your property, or an assumption you are not subject to city control, but that is not true.

At times, confusion results when determining which law is applicable to properties in planned unit developments. You may have heard it said that city laws don’t apply if your property is subject to homeowners’ association rules. That determination requires not only a review of the HOA rules but also an examination of whether the residence is located within city limits or located in the city’s extraterritorial jurisdiction (ETJ). Chapter 42 of the Texas Local Government Code sets forth what area is a city’s statutory ETJ based on city population.

Clear as mud. However, HOAs will enforce restrictive covenants in their rules a home-buyer is subject to at the time of purchase of a residence subject to a homeowners’ association. HOAs can be an integral component of a successful development agreement between a city and a developer because restrictions aid in retaining market value of property. Rules restricting homeowners may ease the task of city enforcement of ordinances, as home-buyers subject to an HOA are made aware of the obligations at the time of purchase, and the conditions/restrictions are contractual. If you break the rules you are breaching the terms of the contract. If you violate a city ordinance, you have not breached a contract but you might end up in court. Interestingly, distinct from legislative/statutory controls, there is no state agency regulating homeowners’ associations. If an HOA fails to comply with its own governing document, only a contractual action would serve to enforce. However, most homeowners’ associations are organized as nonprofit corporations and therefore subject to state law controlling corporate entities. Numerous articles have been written critical of what is perceived as over-whelming power of homeowners’ associations in Texas, and perhaps rightly so, but the Texas Legislature chose not to tackle this issue in the last session.

[1] Houston First Corporation, Houston Facts & Figures

Please do not rely on this article as legal advice. We can tell you what the law is, but until we know the facts of your given situation, we cannot provide legal guidance. This website is for informational purposes and not for the purposes of providing legal advice. Information about our real estate law practice can be found here.

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