home owners association

HOA’s: When you don’t like the rules

If you live in a newer suburban community or planned unit development, you are probably a member of a homeowners association (HOA). It’s also a good bet that you haven’t given your HOA much thought until you have a problem. Since HOAs make and enforce the community rules, it’s smart to understand what you can do if you can’t or don’t want to follow them.

HOA facts

Each HOA, a volunteer group of neighbors who manage common areas of a subdivision, creates its own covenants, conditions, and restrictions. These CC&Rs cover resident behavior, property management, and common responsibilities.

Average annual dues for a homeowners association is $420, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. And there’s value in the fee. A 2005 study, which appeared in the Cato Institute’s Regulation magazine, compared a group of Washington, D.C., area HOA properties with similar homes without community benefits. The HOA house values were found to be .54% higher. That’s $1,067 on the average U.S. home value of $197,600.

When you don’t like the rules  

Some boards can impose what some homeowners believe are invasive, silly, or elitist rules. HOAs have broad legal powers to collect fines and fees and regulate activities. If you don’t respond to letters from the board, property manager, or a collection agency, the HOA can and will turn to small claims court or file a lien against your property. You can handle some issues, if they don’t affect the CC&Rs, with a phone call. If you want to do something that’s against the rules — like flying the American flag in your yard — start by making a written request for variance, using the appropriate HOA form in your CC&R documents. A variance gives you permission to be the exception to the rule. Submit your request to the board and property management company.  Help your cause by seeking a compromise: That you’d like to fly the American flag, but only on national holidays. 

 Don’t expect a quick solution

Some HOA boards meet as little as twice a year. If the board decides the issue is worth pursuing, it may require a community vote. If it passes a majority, the board will adopt it. Board members also may consult the HOA attorney to see if there’s a legal liability if they rule against you. If you don’t get a timely response, request a hearing and resubmit your request for variance with as much support for your cause as possible. If the board rules against you without a community vote, you can appeal the ruling with a petition signed by a majority of other homeowners.  

But if you fly your flag without permission, expect to get fined. Fines can range from a nominal $25 to a painful $100 or more depending on the issue. Your CC&Rs will indicate the fine schedule—per day, per incident, etc. Interest for nonpayment can accrue, and the HOA can sue you in small claims court. If you feel the ruling or the fines are unjust, the last resort is to hire an attorney and sue the HOA, as a flag-flying couple did in 1999. They battled their HOA in court for nine years before the case was settled in their favor. 

 Become the rule-maker  

If you don’t like the rules, the best way to change them is to become part of the process.  

1. Know your CC&Rs, annual budget, and employee contracts. Do you see areas where expenses can be cut? Are service providers doing their jobs? 

2. Volunteer for a committee or task. If the board needs to enforce parking rules, for instance, you can volunteer to gather license plate numbers of residents’ vehicles. In addition, put your professional expertise to work: Assist the board with data entry, accounting, or website design. 

3. Stand for election to the board. When a position becomes open, the board notifies the members, and you can put your name forward. New board members are elected at the annual meeting by member majority vote. Many boards are three to nine members large, with terms of one to two years.  

Involvement drawbacks

As a board member, be prepared to spend two to four hours a month reviewing property management reports, monitoring budgets, or talking to other board members and residents. Most boards meet quarterly; small boards only meet twice a year, for a couple of hours. Accept that you might become less popular if homeowners don’t like your decisions.  

Involvement benefits

But there are rewards. You’ll feel more in control of your community’s fate. You may find that some rules you didn’t support have merit after all. But most of all, you’ll know you’re doing all you can to protect your quality of life and your home’s value.

 For more useful information about HOA’s and homeownership talk to a REALTOR® today.

HOA’s: The rules and regulations you need to know

The key task of a homeowners’ association (HOA) is to protect its members and protect their property values. If you’re planning to buy a home that features a HOA, knowing the rules and regulations is vital before purchase.  

CC&R
The CC&R is short for Codes, Covenants and Restrictions, which are essentially the basic framework for the HOA. Attorneys usually craft these documents, but since each HOA needs vary, the language is intentionally vague, according to Realty Times. This allows those in charge of the HOA to work together to determine the rules of their complex.

The Board
A HOA is typically run by a volunteer board of directors who are elected by the members of the HOA. It is this board’s obligation to enforce the rules set forth in the CC&R and the rule book limits their powers. Some of their basic duties include collecting HOA dues, enforcing code violations and determining changes to the CC&R. Some boards have broad powers, right down to the right to foreclose on property if dues are not paid.

 The Rules
Every HOA’s CC&R features a rulebook documenting things their members are allowed and not allowed to do. The rulebook can be as precise as the HOA’s members want it to be, but ultimately the HOA’s members must agree to these rules. HOAs can place restrictions on pet ownership, the types of flags owners are allowed to fly outside their homes, what colors homes can be painted, how tall grass is supposed to be and even types of home additions. According to Bankrate.com, some HOA members have taken their HOAs to court over what they consider excessive restrictions.

 Resolution
Many CC&Rs feature a resolution process to propose and enact new rules. The positive to the resolution process is that it’s not necessary to amend the core of the CC&R, which can require the use of an attorney. The process is much like that of adopting a new policy in a city government. A rule is proposed. Then a review board examines the new rule and provides HOA members with information so they can comment. If the majority of the HOA members agree, the rule is enacted and information on enforcement, punishment and appeal is included.  

Pros and cons.
The major benefit of the CC&R for a HOA is that all of the complex’s rules are spelled out before you move in or purchase property. If you are planning to buy a home that features a HOA, it’s a good idea to read the rule book thoroughly, especially if you intend to make adjustments to your property. Everyone in a HOA lives by the same code. The big negative is that once you sign, you’re entering into a legally binding contract. According to Bankrate.com, you must abide by the CC&R and there are few options if you have a grievance. As with any legal document, it’s suggested that you thoroughly investigate the implications before you sign.

For more useful information about HOAs and homeownership, talk to a Realtor® today.