Multi-family property owners and those who live in homeowner association governed communities face unique challenges in their effort to open homes to people displaced by Hurricane Katrina.

Homeowner associations (HOAs) often restrict the number of people who can live in an HOA home and how long guests can stay, among other restrictions.

Likewise, property owners, often adhering to health and safety regulations as well as federal guidelines for subsidized housing, must restrict who (often those receiving federal assistance but not their friends or extended family) and how many people can live in a given unit.

That's led at least two industry groups to seek some relief of their own.

"We recognize that the governing documents that guide many community associations may be seen by some as obstacles to providing long-term shelter to the victims of this tragedy. These documents, developed to protect the best interests of the community as a whole, do not account for a disaster leaving up to a million of our fellow citizens with little more than the clothes on their backs," said Sandra K. Denton, president of the Community Associations Institute.

"We urge community and condominium associations to be as flexible as possible in these unprecedented circumstances," she added seeking a voluntary relaxation of HOA rules on an as-needed and case-by-case basis.

Seeking a more formal remedy, the National Multi Housing Council and the National Apartment Association recently appealed to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the U.S. Department of the Treasury for a temporary, emergency waiver of all program requirements for the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit properties, properties funded with the proceeds from multifamily tax-exempt bonds; properties financed by the Federal Housing Administration; and properties that receive HUD subsidies.

NMHC says the apartment industry has thousands of vacant low- and no-cost apartments available for those who need housing, but the units can't be used because they are subject to rules limiting who may occupy them and how many people can occupy a given unit and they require income verification, security deposits, minimum rent payments, specialized leases, and long-term rental contracts.

The two apartment industry groups seek a waiver that applies to leases signed between September 1, 2005 and November 1, 2005 and want the waiver to remain in effect until April 1, 2006, unless extended. Once the waiver expires, residents would have to meet existing requirements to remain in the apartments.

"This is an unprecedented request, but these are unprecedented times that require bold action. A comprehensive waiver would allow apartment owners to avoid unnecessary delays and immediately respond to the enormous need for shelter," said NMHC President Doug Bibby.

"As a temporary measure, it would provide state, local and federal officials the time needed to develop long-term housing plans for the hurricane victims," Biddy said.

Because it could require state level legislation or a court ruling to change a homeowners associations rules and regulations CAI is appealing to condo, townhome, loft and other HOA governed home owners to discuss the matter with governing boards during regular meetings or -- because the need for housing is urgent -- in special sessions.

"This arrangement, especially where it involves numerous homeowners in an individual association, can raise concerns relating to insurance, adherence to rules (such as parking and pets) and the use of services and facilities," said Denton.

"While these issues may need to be addressed, we do not believe there is an inherent conflict between fulfilling these responsibilities and providing shelter for those in need," she added.

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