How to Deal With Your Homeowners Association
Knowing how to deal with a homeowners association is probably something that most home buyers don’t think about before buying into an area that has one.
In the past 50 years the growth of homeowners associations, or HOA for short, has been substantial. Designed to maintain the covenants of a neighborhood – preserving its integrity and value – homeowners associations serve an essential role in many communities.
However, they can also cause severe headaches for homeowners in certain situations. Knowing how to deal with your homeowners association can help you avoid possible problems and get the most out of the organization.
Use these tips for dealing with a homeowners association to make your condominium or home ownership experience more enjoyable and less stressful.
Understand The Homeowners Association Rules
Every homeowner’s association (HOA) has a set of covenants, rules, deeds, and bylaws to maintain and it will often go to great lengths to do so – including charging fees and taking legal action. This is why you need to make sure you understand all of the bylaws that govern what you can and cannot do with your property. Some of them are not always obvious, either.
You probably expect limitations on the colors you can paint your house or the amount of yard art you can display in the front yard. Many homeowners associations will go further, though.
Some prohibit the type of vehicles you can park in your driveway, the keeping of trash cans in front of the house and even parking your car with an inch of tire on the grass. Knowing all the rules can help you avoid breaking them and suffering the fines that follow.
What I have found over the years while working as a Realtor is that many buyers do not realize how different it can be going from going to somewhere that you make all the decisions to a place where all the choices are a democracy.
This is especially true when buying a condominium. Given how different things can be when comparing purchasing a condominium to a single family, it is essential to know what questions to ask beforehand, so you don’t find yourself really disappointed later on.
This doesn’t just apply to the rules and regulations but also to finances and legalities of being under the control of a homeowners association.
What happens if I violate the homeowner’s associations rules or they say I have but that’s not the case?
Many homeowners associations outsource management tasks. On occasion, something may get lost in the shuffle like your condominium dues. The fact that this can happen makes it vital for you to keep a copy of the check you used to pay your dues.
In the case where your payment is lost, and you are charged late fees you will have records indicating the homeowners association is wrong.
You should also keep copies of any forms sent to the homeowner’s association as well as any communication received from the association in case issues arise later. If you are issued violations, document your efforts to fix the breaches through photographs and detailed record keeping.
Get What You Pay For
Some homeowners get so caught up in worrying about breaking the rules that they forgot why the homeowners association exists in the first place. The organization is maintained by the dues you pay to keep your neighborhood in good working order.
This requires making decisions and providing upkeep on the communal property – parks, pools, sidewalks, etc.- and making sure all residents are paying their dues and obeying the rules.
Take a look around your neighborhood and make your own observations. Are things in good working order? Do they look good and are they appealing to potential home buyers? Expect good work from your homeowner’s association and demand more when you feel you need to.
This may require getting together with your neighbors and becoming more involved, but you should get what you pay for when it comes to your homeowner’s association.
Get to Know Your Neighbors
Another excellent tip for dealing with a homeowners association is to band together with your neighbors. For many people, it can be difficult to break the ice with strangers – even when they live next door.
If you want to enjoy the best experience in your neighborhood, though, getting to know your neighbors is important.
Not only will you have more opportunities for conversation, but you will also have more leverage when you need to address a concern with your homeowner’s association.
Like any established organization, your homeowner’s association may be difficult to influence at first – especially if you are standing alone in your beliefs. The more voices you can bring to your cause the more likely the HOA is to listen.
In the worst case scenario, you can even band together to hire an attorney to take legal action if necessary.
Knowing your neighbors on a personal level also gives you another advantage. There are times, even knowing all the bylaws of your neighborhood, that you might accidentally violate a rule.
If you are a stranger to others, they may choose to go straight to the HOA to report your violation, leaving you vulnerable to fines or other punishments. If you are a well-known neighbor, though, they are just as likely to speak to you first, so you have a chance to rectify the situation before the homeowners association becomes aware of it.
Get Involved With The Homeowners Association
The best way to exercise your rights and maintain some level of control over your homeowner’s association is to get involved with the organization. Regularly attending meetings where members are allowed is the best way to do this.
You will stay aware of what the homeowners association is planning and how it will affect you in the future. You will also have a better understanding of the type of people making these decisions and how they go about their work.
You will quickly realize that with some homeowners associations there are folks that join the board because they have nothing better to do. Their lives become entwined with shaping the rules exactly the way they want them.
You, on the other hand, may find the way some of these people think does not match your own. This is when you may see the need to make sure you have a voice before your neighborhood feels like it is being run by a dictatorship.
Another way to get involved is to become a member of the board. One of the better tips for dealing with a homeowners association is to follow the favorite saying “if you can’t beat them join them.”
This involves more work, but it also puts you in a unique position of being able to directly impact the decision-making process. Whether you want the HOA to invest in a new park or you think it has no business spending the money in a certain way, you can say so.
Pay Your Homeowners Association Dues
This may seem self-explanatory, but paying your dues on time will make dealing with your homeowner’s association much easier. It will also keep you in good standing so if you ever have to argue with the association you have a better chance of being taken seriously.
You are part of a community that all contributes, and you need to do the same.
There are plenty of reasons to keep you paying your dues, not the least of which is the fact that your homeowner’s association can foreclose on your home. There are real horror stories of homeowners that failed to pay dues on their homes and were subsequently kicked out by the homeowners association.
Like any foreclosure, the HOA can then sell your home for a fraction of what it is worth.
Sometimes dues may increase for no apparent reason or for reasons that you do not agree with. While you and your neighbors may want to question the decisions of the board on the matter, you should still keep paying your dues.
Failing to do so puts you in a precarious position that is best avoided. This includes paying any fines you are assessed.
The homeowners association has a fair amount of power and can cause you all sorts of grief if you fail to pay what it demands. If things are getting out of hand, though, remember that you and your neighbors have the power to change things – either through voting in new board members or through legal action.
The Last Straw – Taking Legal Action
Living under the umbrella of a homeowners association, you may find yourself in a situation where you feel your rights as a homeowner are being violated. Maybe there are new board members that have been elected to the condo association, and they have become entirely unruly.
In fact, you can’t even stand the thought of coming home from work because you may have to lay your eyes on one of these people. This is when you may find it time to take legal action against the homeowners association. Generally speaking when it comes to the law if the restriction is reasonable, and it has a rational relationship to the association’s interests in protecting the property and owners, then it’s more than likely going to be enforceable.
If not then you need to speak with a competent attorney who understands case law surrounding this kind of real estate case.
Hopefully, you have found this advice helpful on how to deal with a homeowners association!
Additional Tips For Dealing With A Homeowners Association
- Ten great tips for putting up with a homeowners association by How Stuff Works.
- Some of the top questions and answers surrounding issues with a homeowners association via Community Association Publishing Services. You will see numerous links to educational topics provided by the nations top community association specialists.
Use these additional tips for dealing with a homeowners association to make sure ownership within the neighborhood is a pleasant one.
About the author: The above Real Estate information on tips for dealing with a homeowners association was provided by Bill Gassett, a Nationally recognized leader in his field. Bill can be reached via email at [email protected] or by phone at 508-625-0191. Bill has helped people move in and out of many Metrowest towns for the last 31+ years.
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