Tips for Dealing With Your Homeowner’s Association
A homeowner’s association (HOA) makes rules for residents in a neighborhood, condominium, or living community. Residents pay dues to the HOA and receive a variety of benefits that range from lawn services to access to a community pool. Despite popular opinion, an HOA doesn’t exist entirely as the bane of existence for most homeowners though. Its main responsibility is ensuring the neighborhood’s safety, avoiding disputes between neighbors, and maintaining the general aesthetics.
Approximately 25% of Americans live in communities that are governed by HOAs or similar associations. Their popularity surged between 1980 and 2010 as more people sought out these communities. However, living in an HOA can have its drawbacks. For example, some residents cannot store their boats or RVs in their driveways according to community laws. Other people have to pay steep fines and fix any issues that go against HOA guidelines.
If this is your first time living in an HOA-governed community, learn how to navigate this organization and handle any disputes effectively.
Know Your HOA’s Rules and Regulations
When you buy a house in an HOA-led neighborhood, you should receive a copy of the bylaws and Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions (CC&Rs). These are the rules that you are expected to follow while living in the community. CC&Rs can cover everything from the colors you are allowed to paint your house to when you are allowed to hand holiday decorations. These rules vary by neighborhood — and some are more strict than others.
If possible, review the CC&Rs before you purchase a property. Always seek clarification on anything that isn’t clear to you. This can help you flag any dealbreakers that would make living there difficult — like bans on certain pets or dog breeds or parking your boat and RV outside.
In Florida, it is common to require homeowners to keep their RVs out of public view. Some people build specialist garages or store their RVs behind their homes. If you have a boat or RV, you might need to invest in storage services so you stay compliant with your HOA rules. Knowing the HOA rules beforehand can help you secure storage before you move so you don’t violate a bylaw and start accruing fines as soon as you move in.
Build Positive Relationships With the Board Members
You can decide how involved you want to be in your homeowner’s association. Some people attend every meeting and subscribe to the various newsletters and Facebook groups created for the neighborhood. Becoming an active member is a great way to build positive relationships and learn more about how the HOA operates.
Remember, you have to live next to your HOA board members. You will see them when you take a walk in the neighborhood or visit the pool. Make sure you maintain a respectful tone and attitude in all conversations, even if you feel like a situation is unfair. This will help you continue to get along with neighbors on a professional level while seeking a compromise.
Get Involved in Decision-Making
If you want to get involved in the maintenance of your neighborhood, consider running for a position on your HOA board. You don’t have to lead the HOA. Instead, you might steer a social committee or neighborhood beautification group depending on your interests.
Once you better understand how the HOA is run, you can start offering your own ideas and submitting proposals for the neighborhood. Instead of waiting for change, you can make it happen.
Pay Your Fees on Time
Even if you don’t have the time or ability to join the HOA board, you can still stay in the good graces of your association by paying your dues on time. Many neighborhoods have online systems now and take PayPal or credit card payments. Set a reminder to pay your HOA dues along with your mortgage and utility bills.
Your dues cover important projects related to landscaping and neighborhood improvement. Paying on time can also prevent extra costs like late fees, which can even affect your credit score.
Maintain Your Property Following HOA Guidelines
For many neighborhoods, HOA guidelines exist for a reason, so it’s best to follow them as much as you can. For example, many HOAs require residents to keep sidewalks clear to avoid any tripping or falling hazards for anyone using the sidewalk. They may also have landscaping requirements to avoid the spread of noxious weeds.
Another common section that HOA bylaws have refers to vehicles in driveways. These rules cover the number of cars that can be in a driveway, the types of vehicles — like branded work trucks — and the placement of boats and RVs. In Texas, for example, there are rules for the number of RVs parked per acre, which means both you and your neighbor might not be able to have RVs in the driveway. Consider finding RV storage options or looking for houses with garages if you are worried that this might be an issue.
You can talk to your HOA if you have an issue with one bylaw, but you agreed to follow these rules when you first moved in and should try your best to follow them as best as you can.
Appropriately Handle HOA Disputes
While many people live in HOAs peacefully for several years, conflicts can arise. A new law can affect how some residents live or run their homes, causing disputes. Vague laws can also cause problems. A homeowner might interpret a bylaw one way while a board member has a different interpretation. Most conflicts cover what homeowners are allowed to do with their properties while still respecting the neighborhood.
For example, one homeowner in Boise, Idaho made the news because of a dispute over which trees he was allowed to cut down on his property. Another couple in Orlando, Florida was told by their HOA to remove decorative stones from their landscaping which cost more than $10,000 to install. The couple thought removing the stones would be a waste of money and pushed back against the HOA.
In most cases, disputes between HOAs and homeowners are resolved peacefully. Often, both parties reach a compromise or make modifications to reach reasonable agreements. However, if these disputes get out of hand, they could lead to lawsuits and even national news stories.
If you find yourself in an HOA dispute, Be respectful. Your board might be more willing to work with you — instead of against you.
Understand the Process of Challenging Decisions
If your HOA passes a new bylaw that you disagree with or you receive a notice for a violation, you might be able to challenge the association. Read through the policies for submitting a challenge, accommodation, or exception to the rule. You might be able to meet with your HOA and reach a fair agreement that benefits all parties involved.
When mediating a conflict, communicate your needs and your reasoning for why you want a certain exception or accommodation. You can also provide multiple solutions and alternatives that could benefit both you and the HOA. This will be more effective than making demands or refusing to budge on various issues.
You can also bring in an objective third party to mediate the dispute or seek legal counsel if you feel like your HOA is acting unfairly.
Pick Your Battles Carefully
If you intend to fight against every bylaw and break as many rules as possible, living in an HOA might not be the best choice for you. Instead, work with your HOA and follow the majority of the rules. This will allow you to focus on singular issues that are very important to you when something you disagree with comes up.
For example, your community might have detailed parking requirements and rules. These are common in densely-popular cities and some states like Arizona. You might be better off storing your RV away from your home where it can be protected from the Arizona heat instead of fighting your HOA on parking laws that are common across associations in the area.
Living with an HOA is often unavoidable, especially if you find a home you love. It’s best to do what you can to get along with your neighbors and the HOA board — who are often the same people. At the end of the day, focus on what is most important to you and the neighborhood.