One of the most visible areas in a planned community is its roads and streets. Because of that, homeowners and their homeowner’s associations sometimes exceed their authority over those roads and get themselves in trouble. Usually, as I’ve written before, when a planned community is developed, a plat is filed that shows the lots, common areas and roads in the community. In the plat and sometimes in the declarations, the roads may be shown as “private” or may be “dedicated” to the “public.” A dedication is one half of the process for transferring the roads to the ownership and control of the North Carolina Department of Transportation. In addition to the dedication or the intent to transfer the roads, the DOT must actually accept the transfer. Usually the developer begins this procedure, but the HOA can begin it after it takes over from the developer. The DOT has building requirements for all public roads and before they accept a dedication, the private roads must be brought into compliance with those regulations. In addition, if it is the HOA that is proceeding with the dedication, the planned community act requires at least an 80% vote of the members before common areas such as the private roads are conveyed.
So the roads in a planned community are either public roads maintained by the DOT, or they are private roads, maintained by the developer or the HOA or the homeowners as a whole. Therefore the first question when trying to determine the scope of authority of an HOA over a road in the community is whether or not the road is public or private.
When the road is public, and maintained by the DOT, the HOA has no authority over the road. I have seen pages of rules regarding on-street parking, skateboard ramps, speed limits, and other limitations on roads in the written regulations, by-laws and Declarations of the HOA. However, when the Declarations fight he law, the law wins. Unlike some of the statutes contained in the Planned Community Act or the Condominium Act, the HOA has no authority to establish more restrictive regulations than the law provides over the public roads within their subdivision. The statutes provide that the Department of Transportation of the state of North Carolina has exclusive control over the public roads.
When the road is private, the HOA does have more control over the roads within the subdivision. The extent of the HOA’s power and authority over the roads is, as usual, governed by its Declarations, By-laws and Rules and Regulations. In addition, the law of easements may come into play as the homeowners in the planned community would have an easement over the roads and would be allowed to reasonably use them based on the plat. Therefore, it is unlikely that an HOA could succeed in removing all access and use of the road from a homeowner. However, speed bumps, signage, parking restrictions, and even gates to keep out any traffic other than homeowners and their guests can be instituted if the Declarations and other community documents allow.
--Bradley A. Coxe is a practicing attorney in Wilmington, NC with Hodges & Coxe PC who specializes in Personal Injury, Medical Malpractice, Homeowner's Associations, Contract and Real Estate disputes and all forms of Civil Litigation. Please contact him at (910) 772-1678.