Home Owners' Associations
Welcome to the Homeowners Association section of FindLaw's Real Estate Center. A homeowners association (or HOA) is the governing body that makes and enforces many of the rules that pertain to "common interest developments" such as tract housing and condominiums. For example, a homeowners' association may decide that no houses in a particular development may exceed a certain height. They may also pay for certain improvements to an entire development, such as hiring local security or landscaping workers. HOA's are usually governed by a group of residents in the development. This section contains practical and legal information on homeowners associations.
Overview of HOAs
The reason why certain communities adopt rules for residents and enforce them through an HOA is to maintain a general uniformity among close-knit properties, typically condominiums grouped together in the same structure. These rules are meant to keep the neighborhood attractive and well-maintained, but also to help maintain property values. For example, an HOA may dictate what colors your house may be, whether you may have political signs in your yard, how long your grass may get before you need to mow it, and so on.
In addition to enforcing rules, HOAs also manage a fund to pay for communal resources, such as a neighborhood park or swimming pool, paved roads, and maintenance of shared structures (such as the exterior walls of a condominium). Homeowners typically pay monthly dues that keep this fund replenished, some of which is put into a reserve account for emergencies and large-scale projects.
The HOA itself usually is handled by an outside property management group, but the governing board is made up of homeowners in the neighborhood. Newly proposed rules, changes, and expenditures typically must clear a vote by HOA board members.
Disputes between the HOA and homeowners are actually quite common, mostly related to monthly dues. Since HOAs are required to keep a certain amount of money tucked away in reserves, in case an expensive need should arise, they may raise the monthly dues if the funds go below that level; and rate hikes are never popular. Some howeowners may feel as if the HOA's rules are too invasive and balk at fines for things like cars in the driveway or loud music.
But just as often, disputes involving HOAs stem from misunderstandings or failure to know the rules. It's best to work out these disputes by talking them out reasonably, rather than filing lawsuits or creating additional problems out of frustration or protest.
What HOAs Typically Regulate
HOAs are all a little different and are meant to reflect the values and desires of the community as a whole, or at least those of the original planners. This means you really need to learn about these rules before you buy. If you enjoy growing your own vegetables, for example, be aware that many HOAs prohibit outside vegetable gardens; but there also are communities with HOAs that welcome such hobbies and lifestyles.
HOAs often have rules addressing the following:
- Swing sets and play structures
- Home-based businesses
Make sure you know what you're getting into before buying a home that has an HOA. Click on a link below to learn more.