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Our Georgia HOA recently changed this rule to the following:

"A Resident or guest shall not discipline, correct, or abuse any of the Management Staff, other residents, guests, directors, officers, contractors/vendors, or committee persons, verbally or otherwise. This applies not only to the Amenity Complex but within the entire XX community."

The two changes were to add contractors/vendors and to expand the rule to be imposed on the entire community, not just to the Amenities property. This is a community of single family homes owned by the residents. Residents can be fined for not complying.

Can this rule actually be enforced by the HOA on other properties in the community that are not owned by the Association? Could I be fined for breaking this rule if I am standing in my own front yard?

Am I also correct that the HOA CAN enforce this rule inside the boundaries of the Association owned property (clubhouse, surrounding grounds, etc.)?

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    This is so ripe for abuse if allowed. "shall not correct"? A creative HOA leader could make life very miserable. Let's say there is a rule that no fences higher than 6 feet are allowed. You have a small 2 feet high fence. They come to you and want to fine you because they claim you have a 7 feet high fence and that's not allowed. You say "but look, this fence is only 2 feet high". Now you committed the offense of "correcting" them. Yes, it is absurd and Kafkaesque, but the rules would allow it.
    – vsz
    Sep 7, 2023 at 5:13
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    Even better. Assuming the HOA leader is a resident, ask a friend to go dig up their lawn as a "contractor" and ask for payment. HOA leader can't correct them.
    – Grooke
    Sep 7, 2023 at 10:55
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    Do they mean "correct" as some form of disciplinary action, as opposed to pointing out that $23.57 + $32.32 is not $55.90? Sep 7, 2023 at 17:31
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    While the quoted rule here is ridiculous, the "shall not ... correct ... any of ... other residents, guests ... verbally or otherwise" is outrageous, and has a huge potential for abuse. It means that you couldn't correct your own guests, or even your own family, ever. That they included "discipline" means you wouldn't even be permitted to discipline your own children, regardless of it just being something like "you must do your homework before playing games", as they could be considered "other residents" (depending on how "other residents" is defined in the rest of the rules).
    – Makyen
    Sep 7, 2023 at 18:43
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    A nice letter to the rulemakers might point out how ridiculous the rule is (lumping "correct" and "discipline" in with "abuse") with such broad applicability. For example, you can't discipline children, correct someone when they are trying to learn something, correct/discipline even your own guests for compliance with the other rules, or correct someone in even a friendly conversation even in your own house. In some cases, lack of ability to correct someone making an error could lead to harm/damage. Pointing this out to other residents could increase pressure for a more specific rule.
    – WBT
    Sep 8, 2023 at 15:50

3 Answers 3

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The HOA is not the government!

The first thing you need to get out of your head is that the First Amendment would apply at all: The First Amendment only protects you from the government. But The HOA is a Homeowner's Association, a private group that you and the other Homeowners are members of. That means the First Amendment does not apply to the HOA.

It's a contract.

The HOA rules basically are a contract: to use the amenities and infrastructure of the HOA and live within its bounds, you adhere to the rules of the HOA.

Contracts can limit your freedom of speech. You might sign a contract with your employer that limits you from disparaging them - and that clause is enforceable. You can bind yourself to a code of conduct in the HOA, and that is enforceable.

The clause, as written, seems to ban anyone (not otherwise empowered) from trying to enforce HOA rules, or committing a crime (abuse). It's pretty simple, and they can enforce it.

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  • Comments have been moved to chat; please do not continue the discussion here. Before posting a comment below this one, please review the purposes of comments. Comments that do not request clarification or suggest improvements usually belong as an answer, on Law Meta, or in Law Chat. Comments continuing discussion may be removed.
    – Dale M
    Sep 9, 2023 at 4:26
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Can this rule actually be enforced by the HOA on other properties in the community that are not owned by the Association?

Yes.

Could I be fined for breaking this rule if I am standing in my own front yard?

Yes.

Am I also correct that the HOA CAN enforce this rule inside the boundaries of the Association owned property (clubhouse, surrounding grounds, etc.)?

Yes.

The HOA is a private membership organization, it is not required to respect First Amendment rights which protect you against government deprivations of free speech.

Note also that just because it can do this doesn't mean that it should. It may very well be an unwise rule. In particular, in Georgia, where race is an ever present issue, the HOA should also consider the risk that it will face potential federal and state discrimination law civil liability if the rule is enforced in a racially discriminatory matter in practice.

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  • Comments have been moved to chat; please do not continue the discussion here. Before posting a comment below this one, please review the purposes of comments. Comments that do not request clarification or suggest improvements usually belong as an answer, on Law Meta, or in Law Chat. Comments continuing discussion may be removed.
    – Dale M
    Sep 9, 2023 at 4:25
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Being an association has limited effect

I infer that from the name, "home owners' association". Do members of the association have votes?

If so, that opens a very special can of worms: political speech.

This wouldn't be the first group of association managers to try to use its powers to suppress political speech about themselves. They usually use an innocuous seeming rule such as banning "abuse". But then, they interpret it against political speech.

And how state law treats this varies. They usually succeed up until a point, but in one of the more memorable reads I've had of an appeals court ruling, the court said "political speech is the single most protected form of free speech" and kicked it back down for heavy sanctions against the association.

But whether this political protection helps you depends on the state, and particularly the speech.

  • If you call the executive director a prostitute, you're probably out of luck.
  • But if you claim the HOA management's rule against electric vehicles is bad policy and violates state law, the wind will be at your back.
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  • In this particular situation, the homeowners do not have the ability to vote for or against a Rule. They do vote to elect Directors to the Board, if that is what you are referring to. Sep 9, 2023 at 20:54
  • @JustTryingToGetTheFacts That's the normal situation where this applies, yes. Organizations have a board who writes rules and decides spending, and if you don't like the rules or spending, you elect the Board. (bylaws often require certain very big decisions to go to member vote). The Board candidates campaign on promises about rules or spending. You can see where free speech is important here. Sep 9, 2023 at 21:16

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