If you are looking at getting a mobility scooter and are currently living in an area run by a homeowner's association—whether you're a renter or owner—know your rights as defined by both the association's rules and the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA). Sometimes you run across neighbors or HOA officials who are unaware of the difference between a mobility scooter and a for-fun motorized scooter, and the result can be a bunch of legal headaches for you. By knowing your rights, you can make your scooter use much easier on you and your neighbors.
Homeowner's associations are required to follow the ADA's regulations and make reasonable accommodations for those who ask. That part is key; the US Department of Housing and Urban Development specifically states that housing providers are not obligated to make accommodations if you haven't requested them. HUD also states in one of its examples that a housing provider does have to allow mobility scooters used to help a disabled person move around, even if the policies normally state that scooters are not allowed, because this counts as a reasonable accommodation.
The best way to ensure that you can use your scooter is to ask about the HOA's policy toward motorized scooters that are used by disabled people. Many HOAs have specific exceptions to no-scooter laws that allow mobility scooters as long as the scooters are used only by the disabled person. Pay attention to restrictions, such as keeping the scooter out of the street and on the sidewalk unless the sidewalk is impassable (or you're crossing the street).
If the HOA has no written exception, ask for a reasonable accommodation in writing. It's usually better to make requests like this in writing because then you have a record of them rather than having to rely on someone's memory. The HOA can't reasonably turn you down if all you're asking to do is use the scooter because you can't move around otherwise.
Sometimes problems can come out of left field—your HOA could have rules in your favor but a neighbor could decide they don't apply to you, for example. Or, as in the case of one Florida woman, the HOA could decide the brand name printed on a scooter lift you have makes the car with the lift a commercial vehicle. In the case of the Florida woman, WFTV reports that the HOA's claims and threats may violate the Federal Fair Housing Act because a simple logo is not enough to make a personal vehicle commercial. These possibilities spotlight why it is so important to know your rights and to have a reasonable-accommodation request on file with the HOA. You're better able to fend off bizarre accusations.
Despite the law generally being on your side regarding merely using a scooter, you are responsible for your behavior. If you damage property with your scooter, you can be held liable for repairs, replacement, or whatever else it takes to remedy the problem. Do not use the scooter aggressively; be polite to any pedestrians blocking your way (if you think the neighbors are purposefully blocking you to be mean, notify the HOA management immediately because the association shouldn't tolerate bullying). Do your best not to drop litter, and pick up anything you dropped. Do not run over lawns or other unpaved surfaces, even if you think the unpaved surface is stable enough for your scooter.
If you want more information about how your scooter use can impact your housing situation and how the ADA can help you, talk to companies that sell medically necessary mobility scooters, such as Access Mobility Products. They are well aware of resources that you can use should you hit a snag and can point you in the right direction if you need help.