It doesn’t matter whether you like or hate the rules, once you buy (or rent) a home that is part of a community association, you’ve signed your fate. You now live under their Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions (CC&Rs)—a legally binding document that dictates the rules for living in a planned community.
These rules govern everything from the number of pets you can own to what color you can paint your front door. And time after time it seems community associations wind up in trouble for one reason or another. Either they deny cancer-stricken kids the permission to build playhouses, or they assess financial penalties against Veterans for displaying flags on the wrong kind of flagpole.
But these stories shouldn’t scare you. A 2014 survey conducted by the Community Association Institute (CAI) concludes that 64 percent of residents are satisfied with living in a community association, 26 percent are neutral, and only 10 percent are dissatisfied.
So who is the HOA, exactly?
Associations are initially set up and run by the community developers. But once all the lots are sold, the association is turned over to the homeowners through an election. The election appoints a [volunteer] group of homeowners as the new Board of Directors.
Frank Rathbun, vice president of communications for the CAI affirms, “This is the ultimate form of democracy.”
The biggest challenge for associations is that the newly elected board members receive no training in property management, yet handle managing the budgets of thousands of dollars worth of property. The community is also dependent on the skills and personalities that the volunteer board members bring to the table. Communication is key in keeping harmony among neighbors.
The Effect on Property Values
Rathbun also says, “You have to overcome that ‘my home is my castle’ issue.”
CC&Rs are written and adopted with one intention: to protect property values. A surprising 70 percent of respondents from the CAI survey agree the rules protect their property values while 26 percent think they make no difference at all. The conflict over which rules are truly necessary, and which are not, is what costs residents time and money.
Tips to Live and Play in an Association
Living successfully and harmoniously in a homeowner’s association (HOA) can be a challenge. Some people are better at it than others. Here are 4 tips to help you happily live and play—and stay out of court:
1. Know the rules before you move in. Being proactive so that you won’t be reactive is sound advice. Too few people know (and understand) the rules before they buy or rent, but it’s important to know what you are obligated to do prior to moving in.
2. Follow the procedures. Boards should have clear procedures set for everything from installing satellite dishes to installing awnings to building RV gates. Follow these procedures, and allow for the specified amount of time it takes to receive approval before starting any installations or projects.
3. Talk to your neighbor first. Although the board is in place to enforce the rules, nothing says being neighborly shouldn’t be your first choice. If their dog is barking incessantly or their music is too loud, knock on their door first before jumping at filing a complaint. You might be surprised at how easy this fixes the problem.
4. Volunteer in the community. Volunteering your help on a project or serving on a committee will keep you up-to-date on the issues the community faces. Don’t wait until your angry or upset over something in the community, get involved and be proactive.
There is no substitution for clear communication between the Board of Directors and the members of the community. Know the rules of the association before you buy (or rent), and decide beforehand whether they are the sort of rules you can live by, or if they are not. Buying into an HOA is a give-and-take kind of thing. If you are willing, living and playing by the rules should be easy.
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