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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 rules. In the real estate industry, that includes many of the rules that pertain to common interest developments such as tract housing and condominiums.

For example, a condominium association may decide that no common area fences 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.

HOAs are usually governed by a group of residents in the development. This section contains practical and legal information on homeowners associations.

Overview of HOAs

You may be wondering about the reason why certain communities adopt rules for residents. Planned communities enforce rules through an HOA to maintain a general uniformity among close-knit properties. These are typically condominiums, townhouses (townhomes), or co-ops grouped together in the same structure. Unlike single-family homes, these communities tend to be part of the same building.

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 signs in your yard, how long your grass may get before you need to mow it, and so on.

In addition to enforcing community rules, HOAs also manage a reserve fund to pay for communal resources, such as:

  • A neighborhood park or swimming pool
  • Paved roads
  • Maintenance of shared structures, such as the exterior walls of a condominium

Homeowners typically pay monthly fees to their property owners association. The HOA fees keep the reserve fund replenished, some of which gets put into a reserve account for emergencies and large-scale projects.

The HOA itself is usually handled by an outside property management group or HOA management company, but the governing board of directors is made up of homeowners in the neighborhood. Newly proposed rules, changes, and expenditures typically must clear a vote by HOA board members. These rules are grouped as:

HOA Disputes

Disputes between the HOA and homeowners are actually quite common, mostly related to monthly dues. 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. Rate hikes or special assessments are never popular. Some homeowners 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.

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 between neighbors. The HOA community can save money by remaining amicable 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. They also reflect the homeownership goals of real estate developers who are the original planners. This means home buyers need to learn about these rules before making their purchase.

If you enjoy growing your own vegetables, for example, be aware that many HOAs prohibit outside vegetable gardens. As long as they don't violate federal or state laws, restrictive covenants can be more stringent than local zoning laws. This allows community associations to regulate everything including clubhouses, tennis courts, and playgrounds. There also are communities with HOAs that welcome such hobbies and lifestyles.

HOAs often have rules addressing the following:

  • Pets, Noise, and Renters
  • Common area amenities
  • Landscaping
  • Home-based businesses
  • Association fees (HOA dues) for maintenance and upkeep

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.

Learn About Home Owners' Associations

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