Va. Senate passes bill allowing all homeowners associations to levy fines

A bill that would allow homeowner associations in Virginia to levy fines even if that right is not in their declarations moved closer to becoming law Tuesday after passing through the state Senate by a wide margin, 30 to 9.

A coalition of conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats joined together in opposition to the bill, warning that it would grant unprecedented power to associations.

“If somebody is using their own private property to put up Christmas lights, or to put out a campaign sign — the bottom line is that’s their own private property,” said Sen. J. Chapman Petersen (D-Fairfax) on the floor. “If the HOA does not have the power to fine the owners for the use of their private property, we should not grant them that power.”

He was joined by Sens. R. Creigh Deeds (D-Bath County), Adam P. Ebbin (D-Alexandria), Thomas A. Garrett (R-Louisa), Stephen H. Martin (R-Chesterfield), Stephen D. Newman (R-Lynchburg), William M. Stanley (R-Franklin), Richard H. Stuart (R-Stafford) and Frank D. Wagner (R-Virginia Beach).

Ebbin had supported the bill in committee but changed his mind after learning that the version before the Senate would allow an association to cut off a homeowner’s utilities if fines go unpaid.

One of his constituents, Maria Farran, won a lawsuit against her homeowners association after being fined over an Obama sign in her yard. She came to the General Assembly last week pleading with lawmakers not to support the bill, HB791.

Sen. Thomas K. Norment Jr. (R-James City), a lawyer who has represented both homeowners and associations, said concerns about the bill were overblown and called it “an appropriate and balanced approach” to ensuring that rules are enforced.

Most newer home associations already have the power to impose fines. But associations formed before the legislature legalized those fees in the mid-1990s do not.

A technical difference between the House and Senate versions means the bill must pass the lower chamber again before heading to the desk of Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D).

Del. Scott A. Surovell (D-Fairfax), who represented Farran in court, said the fight wasn’t over. Forty House members opposed the bill on its first vote, and he’s working to win over more.

“I think it’s going to be an uphill climb, but I’m going to try,” he said.

Rachel Weiner covers cops and courts in Arlington and Alexandria.
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