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My Love-Hate Relationship with HOAs

By Cindy Williams February 09, 2024 Lifestyle

Do you own a property located within a Homeowners Association? Do you have or hear horror stories from friends and family dealing with Homeowners Associations? I’ve got a few to share, and I am betting many of you do, too! Homeowners Associations can be often misunderstood, often out of control, often necessary, yet often unnecessary and a nightmare to some!

What Is a Homeowners Association?

First things first! What actually is a Homeowners Association (HOA)? It is a mini-government organization typically ran by residential homeowners elected to a board of directors to oversee the neighborhood management of common areas.

Homeowners Associations or POAs (property owners associations) began as early as the 1960s as a way to manage residential developments with shared common areas. HOAs are much more common now than in years gone by due to so many housing developments containing smaller individual lots requiring more shared amenities or common areas.

In neighborhood areas with shared swimming pools, clubhouses, playgrounds, grounds and walking trails a Homeowners Association is deemed necessary in order to keep the shared amenities well maintained and in good repair.

Many will argue that a Homeowners Associations is also absolutely necessary to police a neighborhood’s restrictions/covenants by being able to collect fees, assess fines, and punish violators.

Frequently, I get calls from homebuyers who are puzzled and unsure if the property they are purchasing is located in a legally formed Homeowners Association.

Why Are HOAs So Misunderstood?

HOAs can be quite complicated with hundreds of pages of rules and regulations. I have often told buyers that HOAs’ rules/regulations are much like rules of a sport you might play. Who would want to play baseball without reading or knowing what the rules of the game are? Yes, it is EXTREMELY important that you know the rules before you play and before you buy that piece of property!

Why is it that most property buyers fail to read HOA documents prior to making an offer on a property? HOA rules/regulations are boring, time consuming to read and sometimes very difficult to read. Here are some tips to find out if the property you are buying is located in a formal HOA and where to find the rules/regulations. Trust me, taking time before you buy can and will save you some major headaches later.

Every piece of real property has a deed or title to the property that describes the property and any documents associated with the property. If you are considering purchasing property through a realtor or homeowner, ask for a copy of the deed and all existing, if any, HOA related documents.

A property deed can also be easily found online or by going to a local register of deeds office in the area where your property is being purchased. Look closely at the deed. If the property is located in an HOA, the legal description section will contain language stating that fact.

There will also be additional references given to HOA bylaws, covenants and restrictions that you should be aware of. If there is no reference to a Homeowners Association, your property is most likely not under a Homeowners Associations’ jurisdiction.

But don’t stop there! If you are not satisfied or sure of the existence of an HOA, a local title attorney can easily research the property and inform you of any existing HOA documents before you make an offer to purchase.

Should All Neighborhoods Have or Be Governed by a Homeowners Association?

No. Not all neighborhoods have common areas, therefore there may be nothing shared to maintain and, in that case, a Homeowners Association may be unnecessary. Many neighborhoods have in place some type of written recorded deed restrictions/covenants that clearly set the property rules for all property owners.

An example of a written deed restriction might be that no outbuildings are allowed on the property unless they match the main home structure. Another example might be that no boats or trailers may be stored on the property.

If a property owner violates a written recorded deed restriction, any property owner(s) in that neighborhood or development have the right to ask that property owner to abide by the restrictions or they may also individually contest the violation in a legal manner. This method typically works well for most properties not located in an HOA and has been in existence for decades.

My Own Experience with HOAs

My first experience with a property located in an HOA came a few years ago after I purchased a three-bedroom condo in a 72-unit development. I did my due diligence and made sure to ask for all HOA documents prior to making an offer. The HOA documents included well over one hundred pages, so it was quite a read!

I carefully read and absorbed the HOA by-laws, rules and regulations prior to making an offer. The monthly dues assessment seemed fair for what appeared to be well maintained grounds and amenities. What I was not prepared for, however, were the somewhat unfriendly letters I would receive from the HOA board during the first year of ownership.

Shortly after purchasing the condo, I ended up leasing it to a year-long tenant until I was ready to move there permanently. Within a month of leasing, I received a written notice from the condo HOA board informing me that someone’s pet excrement was found in the lobby of the condo building.

The condo HOA rules/regulations allowed pets less than 30 pounds for condo owners and strongly discouraged owners allowing tenants to have pets.

The written notice I received was quite unfriendly and stated that the next time an animal excrement was found in the building, they would have the excrement checked for DNA and require all pet owners to submit DNA samples of their pets to see whose pet the excrement belonged to. The HOA board letter further stated that the pet owner found to be guilty would be heavily fined. To my knowledge, there were never any fines levied after the threatening letter.

I unfortunately was in receipt of a few more HOA letters that year from the same condo association. One letter assessed a fine of $350 to me due to a tenant accidently stopping up the garbage trash chute with a carpet remnant.

Another letter informed me that a remodeling contractor I hired could not occupy the condo while remodeling work was being done. To say the least, the receipt of the numerous HOA board letters discouraged me from moving into the condo and I eventually sold it.

Let’s Have a Conversation:

Have you had good or bad experiences with your HOA? Have you purchased a property without knowing an HOA existed? Do you think HOAs have too much or too little policing power? Would you prefer to buy a property with or without an HOA?

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I love my HOA. My home is a small apartment in a high-rise condo building. It would be absolutely impossible for my building to function without a strong HOA. There is a lobby, laundry room, fitness center, community/party room, dog park, mail & secure package room. We share a roof, hallways, elevators and giant waterheaters & steam heat boilers. We have landscaping, parking and a 24/7 security staff. There is no way any of this would be in good repair and proper condition without all of us chipping in and without some kind of organization to oversee things getting done.

Yes, the dues seem like a lot, but IMO are a reasonable trade-off. The money we pay keeps the building standing; the association officers make sure maintenance gets done to keep us from slipping into disrepair, disaster and mayhem.

Yes, there are rules to live by; but where in society are there not expectations of decent behavior? I read and reread our bylaws & regulations and consulted with an attorney before I bought and have no problem living within the rules. I cherish peaceful enjoyment of my home and find it easy to avoid actions that might disturb the peaceful enjoyment of my neighbors.

It’s ridiculous that people would buy into a building like mine without expecting rules, knowing what rules are in place and honestly assessing whether they can abide by those rules.

Personally, I am glad I live in a community that will take action against owners who tear up our common property, dog-parents who let their pets poop in the elevator and owners who terrorize others with drug-induced behavior or noise or smoke. I mean, really, the rules are there to make our building a nice place to live. Nothing is free. Life is not and should not be a free-for-all. It’s not difficult to live in community with neighbors. I know people love to hate on HOAs; but, in most cases, I strongly believe the amenities from community greatly exceed the dollar costs and the simple behavior costs required by an HOA.


Condo living or detached housing with common ground areas may be an attractive alternative to home ownership in retirement. However, beware! As a former President of a condo association many years ago, I quickly jumped ship when the property owners voted against an increase of monthly fees to pay for expected future capital expenditures. The money just wasn’t going to be there, necessitating major assessments levied on each unit owner. Monthly condo fees plus assessments can add up sometimes to almost another monthly mortgage payments. Also, I did not like having little control over the contractors hired or their charges. My advice to all would be to buy a small home that you are comfortable in and hire your own maintenance contractors to perform yard work, repairs, etc. and that way you have better control of out-of-pocket expenses so you can afford living in your home for years to come.


Many of us live in places where the cost of even a small home is way more than we can afford so we have no choice other than renting (no thanks).. The HOA experience seems to be only as good as the community and it’s leadership. Lucky to have found this to be true in my condo community. A strong board and reasonable homeowners that (currently) understand the needs to have enough money in reserve to maintain the community and a monthly fee that reflects the costs for our area. We have well written bylaws and great communication due to having a good president and board. I realize how lucky I am.


Never again HOA, ugh! My stories are definitely way too long, and I have many, but after we quit going to meetings and their dreaded yearly Christmas cookie exchange and just paid our yearly fees, then they complained we didn’t socialize and wanted me “ back in the fold” To which I never complied. Colorado was gorgeous, neighbors were not! I’ll stop there, no HOA for me. Presently in Florida, loving it!❤️👙🩴🦎🏝️


In Scotland this is called a Factor. I have a property on a small gated estate run by a Factor and would never buy another property of this kind. Thankfully another company was appointed recently, the previous one we had for 8 years just charged residents management fees but didn’t do anything for us, emails and phone calls were regularly not acted on. Even the gardeners they hired were told only to do basic things as the management didn’t want to shell out for proper work.

The Owners Association is another matter, run by residents. Unfortunately some of the retirees on this small estate would like it to become retirement village central and they refuse to agree to changes other younger owners would like to put in place. This means there is no sense of community.

Suffice to say I’m not planning to be there when I retire back in Scotland. I never want to live behind gates, deal with a management company or difficult residents again!

Stella Fosse

We first learned of the existence of an HOA at closing on our house. We had been told there was no HOA–which was only arguably defensible given that the builder had not yet turned over leadership to a governing board. But suddenly at closing there were massive papers to review, and at that point it was simply too late to say no. Over the years, the HOA Board has been taken over by folks who love to insinuate themselves into their neighbors’ decisions–even something as banal as the manner of hanging up a garden hose. I keep thinking, if I hate this, what will it be like if and when I need to move into a care community? Egads.


According to our deeds, owners are not permitted to have furniture outside the front of their houses as we don’t really have front gardens and the paths are communal and must not be blocked for safety reasons. One new owner who bought into the estate last year lives overseas for 9 months. They have furniture outside, fake plants and have blocked the path off between themselves and the house next door with garden planters. There have been complaints but nothing has been done.
Another property is owned by one of their family members and has been turned into an unlicensed AirBnB. Residents have reported it to the local government as there are people coming and going all the time. The gates have a secure numeric keypad so the numbers have to be given out to AirBnB visitors. We are not even supposed to give them to delivery drivers.

The Author

Cindy Williams, investor and recently retired 40-plus-year TN-licensed real estate broker/appraiser, enjoys empowering people. Cindy has written articles for local newspapers, co-hosted a radio talk show, owned/operated a dirt race track and looks forward to more adventures. Any questions are welcomed at

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