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Homeowners Association Basics

Most cities and towns have zoning requirements that prohibit homeowners from making unrestricted changes to their houses. This keeps people from adding third stories to two-story structures, building three-car garages up to the neighbor's property line, or simply tearing down a house to make room for two houses on the same lot.

However, most communities have no power to require homeowners to use certain colors for their exterior walls, keep their lawns well-manicured, or take down holiday decorations after a certain date.

Common Interest Developments and Planned Communities

Common interest developments (CIDs) are residential communities that have a number of restrictions on property use, in part, to maintain the value of the homes in the community. The CID, sometimes called a planned unit development, combines the security of home ownership with the convenience of minimal maintenance. These communities often provide residents with self-contained communities with shared amenities such as swimming pools, parks, tennis courts, and buildings for community events.

Some CIDs have single-unit houses, while others have attached houses or townhomes. Oversight of the common areas is the responsibility of the homeowners association (HOA). It is the HOA's responsibility to maintain common areas, manage the CID's budget, and ensure residents abide by the community's regulations.

Condos and Coops

A CID differs somewhat from a condominium or a cooperative/co-op. A condominium owner owns only the interior space of the unit and the exterior walls are considered part of the common space (and thus are maintained by a condominium owners' association). In a cooperative, owners hold shares in a corporation that owns the property, with each resident owning shares that correspond to a specific unit. The cooperative fees pay for building maintenance inside and out.

Planned Communities in the U.S.

With a CID, the resident owns the entire structure and the land on which it sits. CID residents are responsible for the exterior upkeep of their own homes. However, the community is responsible for maintaining the common amenities and many also take care of landscaping.

The benefits of a CID appear to be a selling point. According to the Community Associations Institute (CAI), a national advocacy and education group, there were 355,000 association-governed communities in the United States in 2020. This includes more than 27.5 million housing units with more than 74 million residents in community associations. In contrast, in 1970 there were only 10,000 such communities, with 701,000 housing units and 2.1 million residents.

A survey conducted for CAI by polling group Zogby International in 2020 showed strong satisfaction among CID owners. Some 90% of survey respondents reported CID living as a positive experience, as opposed to only 10% who said it was a negative experience. About 94% of respondents said that the association rules and regulations enhanced the CID's property values.

Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions - CC&Rs

The community rules and regulations are known as covenants, conditions, and restrictions (CC&Rs). However, CC&Rs are also the basis for many resident complaints. The CC&Rs generally cover the exterior appearance of each residence, and their goal is to create a uniform environment. The difficulty arises when the homeowners association and individual residents have a different idea of what "uniform" actually means.

Some CIDs have very general guidelines that allow people to express a certain degree of individuality, as long as their homes are well-kept. Other CIDs have CC&Rs that prohibit residents from choosing their own paint trim colors, planting trees or shrubs, or hanging a non-approved color of curtains in their windows. There may also be rules regarding signs, flags, and holiday ornaments.

Often, the CC&Rs are included in the property deeds, which means removing a particular regulation can be time-consuming and cumbersome.

Legal Help With Your HOA

It can be challenging to deal with an HOA. Some members of a homeowners board are overzealous and can make life difficult for homeowners who are looking to mind their own business. Other HOAs fail to enforce the rules against clear violations. If you have questions or legal concerns when dealing with a neighbor or HOA, talk to a real estate attorney in your area for advice.

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