Homeowners associations, or HOAs, provoke strong feelings in some residential developments. Avoid conflicts with goodwill gestures such as these.
Understanding the HOA’s purpose and structure
An HOA is an organization of the owners in a condominium complex, townhome development or subdivision. These organizations allow property owners to govern their neighborhood in a way that protects everyone’s property values. By enforcing the same rules on everyone, the homeowners association ensures that owners take care of their property so that the neighborhood stays attractive and well-maintained. HOAs also manage the care of the common areas all owners enjoy, such as amenity centers, playgrounds, and pools.
If you buy into a neighborhood with an HOA, membership is mandatory. All owners pay dues — monthly, quarterly or annually — to fund the HOAs operations.
Homeowners associations spell out their rules in bylaws. These cover what owners can and cannot do when it comes to parking, noise control, restrictions on pets, changes to the look of a home, keeping the landscape maintained and more. Bylaws also establish an HOAs governing board and address the election of officers, financial management, dates for officers’ and community-wide meetings, and other matters.
Often HOA boards hire a property management company to handle the association’s day-to-day duties such as collecting dues, arranging for the maintenance of common areas and other issues. The HOA can recruit and appoint committees from among the homeowners, such as an architectural control committee that approves or declines requests for changes to a property.
The power of HOAs varies, but in most states, they can levy fines for violations and, if necessary, take legal action, such as placing a lien on the property of owners who chronically violate bylaws or are delinquent on dues and fines.
Differing views cause conflict in homeowners associations
Most owners experience little or no conflict with their homeowners association. They understand that the HOA is there to protect their property values, even if they don’t agree with every decision. Some owners, however, view HOA rule enforcement as overbearing, while other owners believe the HOA isn’t strict enough. In any large organization, conflicting views are inevitable. Here are ways to minimize conflict.
- Read and follow your association’s bylaws. Most conflicts between owners and the HOA comes when the homeowner fails to read the association’s bylaws and inadvertently violates them. These conflicts often arise when owners make changes to their homes that violate the association’s architectural rules. Know the rules and follow the association’s process for getting approvals. Be flexible and allow your board and committee members some time and latitude. Like you, they probably have families and full-time jobs and are volunteering their services to the homeowners’ association.
- Avoid litigation. Some owners know the rules, ignore them and fight any enforcement by the HOA, even suing to get their way. Such hostile acts sow discord and hurt the neighborhood. Remember that the whole neighborhood pays the financial cost of any litigation the HOA is involved in. Owners should be reasonable and think of how their contrary actions affect their neighbors.
- Remember that board members are your neighbors. The people who serve on your HOA’s board of directors are volunteers who live just around the corner. Their decisions affect them in just the same way they affect you. Give board members the benefit of the doubt and try to avoid suspicion and resentment.
Directors, understand that the owners are your neighbors. Directors are there to serve, not to rule. If you are a director, be reasonable in enforcing the rules. Most bylaws have provisions for directors to make judgment calls. Be flexible, and remember you are dealing with your neighbors.