Homeowners associations are tasked with managing and overseeing the common areas of a neighborhood, which many times include recreational facilities such as tennis courts. In recent years, pickleball, a game that is a mixture of tennis, ping pong, and badminton, has grown in popularity, and residential developers are now regularly including pickleball courts as an amenity in newer neighborhoods. Some more established communities are also engaging with the trend, and are considering converting their existing tennis courts into pickleball courts. This decision to accommodate pickleball as a neighborhood amenity can be surprisingly controversial, as it can reduce the number of available tennis courts for residents and potentially require additional expenses for the association. This article explores the considerations surrounding HOAs converting pre-existing tennis courts into pickleball courts.
The most prominent first consideration when converting tennis courts into pickleball courts is the HOA’s governing documents. The governing documents dictate how the HOA operates. They typically include the declaration of covenants, conditions, and restrictions (CC&Rs), bylaws, and rules and regulations. These documents may have specific language regarding the use of recreational facilities, including limitations on modifications of existing amenities, or on construction of new amenities. Many times, these governing documents can require approval of membership prior to constructing new amenities, substantially modifying amenities, or removing existing amenities.
Second, there are logistical considerations. Permanent court conversion may not actually be necessary to fulfill the community’s pickleball demand. USA Pickleball, the governing body for the sport, has resources on their website related to conversion of tennis courts to accommodate pickleball (https://usapickleball.org/). Even if the association does not want to undertake the required vote or expense to permanently convert courts, there are options for temporary pickleball setups. Standalone temporary pickleball nets can be used, and some models of tennis court nets can be lowered to the standard height for pickleball. There is also temporary line-marking tape that can be utilized for the smaller pickleball court size, or differing color boundary lines that can be employed to use the existing facilities for both games. Another selling point for pickleball as an amenity is that four standard pickleball courts can fit within one existing tennis court, which can mean that more residents can utilize existing court space at the same time. If considering allowing existing tennis courts to be temporarily used for pickleball, associations should consider drafting rules and regulations relating to court operations and scheduling. These rules and regulations should also address proper use of net hardware and line marking tape to ensure that the existing common area court facilities are not inadvertently damaged by those wanting to play pickleball.
Another important consideration when converting tennis courts into pickleball courts is ensuring accessibility and safety of existing facilities. One prominent benefit of pickleball is that the game can be more readily adapted than tennis for persons with disabilities, for those with limited mobility, or for those that utilize wheelchairs. The Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) requires that recreational facilities open to the public beyond association members be accessible to individuals with disabilities, and a pickleball court conversion project could mean additional accessibility renovations and considerations to anticipate a more inclusive player pool in certain communities that rent out their facilities and otherwise open themselves up for public use. The Fair Housing Act (“FHA”) prohibits discrimination in housing in residential communities and applies to private facilities reserved for owners, and may also be relevant to a decision on whether or not to convert a court . If the HOA converts the tennis courts into pickleball courts, it will have to allow some reasonable modifications (at the requesting party’s consent) under the FHA, and if the ADA applies, may have to proactively make the facility reasonably accessible. This may require modifications such as additional accessible parking spaces, curb cuts, and accessible routes to the courts. In addition to accessibility, safety is also a concern when modifying recreational facilities, and this may include adding new fencing, lighting, or other safety features to the courts.
Converting existing tennis courts into pickleball courts can also negatively impact residents who currently use the courts for tennis or who are owners of lots adjacent to the common area. The HOA should consider the needs and preferences of all residents before making any modifications to the common area recreational amenities. It may need to conduct feedback surveys or hold meetings to gather input from residents and ensure that they are making a decision that is in the best interest of the community as a whole. One prominent difference between pickleball and tennis is that the game can produce additional noise (as the balls used for pickleball are typically made of hard plastic, rather than rubber and felt). Due to these concerns, the association may want to have a noise study performed in order to mitigate or plan for any additional noise that would be experienced by nearby residents.
Accommodating pickleball within the association’s portfolio of amenities is a decision that involves planning and foresight. The governing documents, accessibility and safety concerns, and impact on residents should all be taken into account before making any modifications. By taking these legal considerations into account, HOAs can make informed decisions that are in the best interest of their community.
For advice or questions regarding this or any other community association (HOA or condo) issue, please contact a Law Firm Carolinas attorney at any of our six offices for assistance.