If you are looking for a new home, you may have come across properties that are part of an HOA. Unless you have previously lived in a house that was part of an HOA, you might be wondering, What Is A Homeowners Association?
So, to answer your question, and provide some additional important background information:
What Is A Homeowners Association?: A homeowners association is an organization that makes and enforces the rules in a condominium building, complex, or other planned community. HOA’s are also responsible for the maintenance and repair of common areas in the development. Membership of an HOA is required if you move into a home within an HOA managed property.
However, this definition only gives the bare bones, so let’s take a look at homeowners’ associations in a bit more detail.
What Is A Homeowners Association?
Homeowners associations are created by developers when they are building condos or other planned communities in which the residents share a common interest such as leisure amenities. The HOA’s are usually incorporated, not-for-profit entities that are registered with the state in which the community is located.
HOA’s are subject to state statutes which cogovern non-profits, and as such, the oversight of HOA’s varies considerably from state to state.
Before anyone has moved into any of the homes, the homeowners association is managed by the development company and is primarily used to manage, market, and sell the properties.
When people buy the homes, they are obliged to join the homeowners association under the control of the developers. Then, when a pre-determined number of homes has been sold, usually 50%, the developers hand over control of the homeowners association to the residents.
What Does A Homeowners Association Do?
A homeowners association is responsible for the control, maintenance, and repair of all of the common areas in a planned development. In planned developments, a common area is generally considered to be” any area which is not explicitly indicated on the community plans, as being a private area.”
The exact detail of how this is done varies from HOA to HOA, but generally, they will:
- Set, collect, record, and manage HOA fees.
- Put aside a proportion of the HOA fees to pay for major scheduled expenses such as roof replacement, new windows, etc.
- Develop and implement a plan for general maintenance and repair of the common areas. This includes how to engage and manage contractors if there are no maintenance staff employed by the HOA.
- Generate emergency plans and disseminate this information among the residents.
- Ensure all applicable building codes are adhered to.
- Maintain, regularly review, and enforce the rules of the HOA.
- Hold regular HOA board meetings with the residents of the development.
- Maintain accurate records of all of the HOA’s decisions, actions, and spending.
Who Makes The Rules For A Homeowners Association?
When a Home Owners Association is first created the development company will file what is known as the Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions and the by-laws of the HOA with the local land registry or clerks office.
Developers attempt to develop CC&Rs and bylaws, which will be in keeping with the type of resident envisioned for the community. For example, the rules for a seniors community might be very different than those in a development planned for families.
Once these CC&Rs and by-laws are registered, it is possible to change them. In most cases, to make changes, the board of the Homeowners Association must agree to do so and hold a meeting where the majority of residents present at the meeting vote for the changes.
As with many other things, rules can vary wildly from HOA to HOA. Some associations are relaxed and exist mostly to ensure the common areas are maintained, giving little thought to the use or look of individual units. Other HOA’s will have rules about everything from the color you can paint your front door to what you can have on a balcony and whether or not your guests can use amenities.
This wild variation is one of the reasons it is so important to review the rules of an HOA before you make a commitment to buy a home governed by one.
An Additional Heads Up
If you are trying to decide whether or not to move into a Homeowners Association managed property, do not rely on your previous experience. The rules and regulations vary a great deal, and while you may have previously lived in a relaxed community before, there is no guarantee that the next one will be as easy to live in.
This is especially true for rules and by-laws which govern something that you would assume to be a no-brainer but which the HOA disagrees with. An excellent example of this is landscaping in drier climates. Many people in these areas choose to plant their garden with drought-resistant plants or to eliminate vegetation altogether in order to minimize water usage.
Many Homeowners Associations will restrict or explicitly blacklist particular styles of garden or species of plant, even if they are environmentally preferable.
If you have a particular plan or style in mind for your new home, check to ensure there is nothing in the CC&R’s or by-laws that will prevent you from carrying out your plans.
Oh, and another thing.
You should also double-check there is nothing that is written so loosely or with such ambiguity that it could be bent to scupper your plans.
How Much Are Home Association Fees?
There are no set rates for Homeowner Association fees, and individual Homeowner Associations set the exact amounts charged. Generally speaking, the more facilities and the higher the standard of those amenities, the more you can expect to pay in HOA fees.
The most significant issue around HOA fees is usually how they will impact a potential buyer’s mortgage application. HOA fees will be factored into your projected monthly outgoings when your application is assessed. Depending on the amount of the fee, this can have a significant impact on the size of the loan you are offered.
Fees can also be impacted by the size of a home, where it is located within a community and the number and level of amenities to which has access.
For example, within the same community, a 1,000 square foot home on the middle floor of a tower may pay significantly less than a 3,000 square foot on the top floor with a private balcony.
In addition to regular HOA fees, there is also something known as a special assessment. This is a charge which is levied on all homeowners to pay for an unexpected or unplanned for expenditure.
A typical example of a special assessment is remediation work after a natural disaster or fire. In theory, the HOA board should have plans in place to cover foreseeable costs, but many do not. In this case, you may suddenly find yourself with a special assessment bill of $10,000 for an item that should have been budgeted for.
Do I Have To Join A Homeowners Association?
If you are purchasing a property within an area managed by a Homeowners Association then yes, you have to join the HOA.
Can A Homeowners Association Evict You If You Own Your Home?
Homeowners Associations have the authority to place a lien against your property for non-payment of HOA fees. They can also do this to recoup legal expenses incurred should the HOA have to take legal action against you for non-compliance of the CC&Rs and / or by-laws.
Ultimately the HOA can force the foreclosure of the home owned by a non-compliant property owner.
What’s The Difference Between A Homeowners Association And A Community Association?
While a developer forms a Home Owners Association in order to run a particular development, a community association is created by members of a geographic community to support the recreational, social, educational, and other opportunities in the area.
There is no requirement for a resident to join a community association, nor do they have to be involved in any meetings or other activities.
Meanwhile, the residents in a development run by an HOA have to join the association and, although participation is not mandatory, it is usually advisable.
Living in a development that is governed by a Home Owners Association is not for everyone. Generally, the more restrictive the HOS’s rules and regulations, the more aligned you have to be with those rules in order to enjoy living there.
If you consider yourself more of a free spirit who likes to make their own choices about how their home looks then consider carefully whether or not you want to live in an HOA property. At the very least, ensure you thoroughly review all of the restrictions, rights, and responsibilities that come with any particular home.
About The Author
Geoff Southworth is the creator of RealEstateInfoGuide.com, the site that helps new homeowners, investors, and homeowners-to-be successfully navigate the complex world of property ownership. Geoff is a real estate investor of 8 years has had experience as a manager of a debt-free, private real estate equity fund, as well as a Registered Nurse in Emergency Trauma and Cardiac Cath Lab Care. As a result, he has developed a unique “people first, business second” approach to real estate.
This article has been reviewed by our editorial board and has been approved for publication in accordance with our editorial policy.