If you live in a community housing development or condominium complex, you may already belong to a homeowners association (HOA). An HOA is an organization that oversees a set of standards and rules for a community. The law offices of HOA specialists Hatch, Little & Bunn, L.L.P. defines it like this: “A Homeowner’s Association is comprised of two or more homeowners that belong to a mandatory membership organization for the maintenance of commonly owned real estate and improvements and regulations of privately owned property in a given area.”
These are the folks who will inform you as to what type of fence you may erect, what type of vehicles you can keep in your driveway and what color you may paint the exterior of your home. And while the intentions of these groups are generally noble and aimed at creating and maintaining a uniform community, individual homeowners often run into problems that can be avoided if the HOA is dealt with properly. An HOA can go as far as to put a lien on your property or foreclose on it if rules aren’t followed.
Check It Out
First off, research an HOA before you purchase a home in its community. Know what you’re getting into. Read the bylaws and covenants going in so you are not unpleasantly surprised by their restrictions. Go one step further and attend a meeting – speak with other members, as they will provide a wealth of information on how the HOA operates.
Take an Active Role
If you are one of the people making or enforcing the rules, there will be no surprises. The bylaws can be changed any time, so stay current on the activities of the association. Communicate with other members. If you have children, for example, speak with other parents regarding rules pertaining to children, as some childless members may not be as attuned to family needs and restrictions – and vice versa. There is strength in numbers, no matter what your stance.
Once again, information on the dealings of the HOA is of utmost importance. Go to meetings. The most important meeting is the annual gathering to elect the board of directors. These people will be telling you what you can and cannot do, so elect those with like interests and viewpoints. And by going to meetings, there will be no surprises. If association fees are going to increase, you’ll know. If a new bylaw will ban recreational vehicles from driveways, you may not want to purchase that new camper next spring. Knowledge is power.
Pay Your Dues
Always be timely with your association dues. Fall behind and the HOA could foreclose on your home. If you feel the dues are too high or too low, table a motion to change them. But you must pay them to avoid penalties.
Get Approval Before Making Changes
Remember to get approval from the HOA before you do any modifications or improvements to your property, such as walls, additions or fences. Go to an HOA meeting and present your modification proposal. And don’t be afraid to discuss it with your neighbors. It’s better to consider everything before you perform an expensive operation than to remove or rebuild it. Ideally, following the bylaws of the HOA will strengthen and enrich the entire community.
Have you had interactions with a homeowners association – positive or negative? Have any advice for future members? Tell us in the comment section below!