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My Love-Hate Relationship with HOAs

By Cindy Williams February 10, 2022 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.

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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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 williamsandassoc@gmail.com.

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