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Woah-HOA! Homeowner’s Associations?

Most first-time home buyers approach the prospect of moving into their dream space with warranted enthusiasm; this is generally a good thing as enthusiasm often leads to diligence in performing necessary tasks. However, it can also lead to overlooking considerations that go beyond the front porch. Specifically, some fail to vet the neighborhood and weigh its potential to affect their family plans.  In this blog, we take a look at the homeowner’s association, a recurring part of every neighborhood of which every first-timer should be aware.

What is a Homeowner’s Association?

Put simply, a homeowner’s association, or HOA, is the smallest form of government. It is a collective of a neighborhood’s landowners who agree to certain regulations. The goal is explicitly to keep neighborhoods safe and clean; implicitly it’s to stop unkempt neighbors from lowering the community’s property values. The localized statutes can be overridden by county and state, so many clarify the letter of certain parts of civil law rather than add anything to it.

What Types of Regulations?

It is important to read over the homeowner’s agreement of any residential area before you sign it. Most are temperate and reasonable limitations on occupant behavior, but there are cases where restrictive statutes have led to conflict among residents. Below is a list of the types of stipulations commonly found on homeowner’s association agreements:

  • Rules that prohibit the visibility of unsightly debris in view of passersby, such as unused above ground swimming pools and derelict cars.  This may include cars that are fully functional but missing tags or registration stickers.
  • Rules that clarify the expectations for lawn care, such as keeping the grass cut below a certain height in spring and summer, and not allowing leaves to cover the entire lawn in the fall. There may also be statutes that require the presence of grass, to avoid the stigma of a lot of dirt interrupting several well-manicured lawns.
  • Rules that lay out expectations for trash upkeep, which may include “recommended” recycling practices and warnings against visible hoarding.
  • A monthly fee for the upkeep of the association. This is another part of the contract you should examine closely, as it can affect your monthly cost of living. It is can also become another source of tension between occupants and boards. Some places charge more than others, which can lead to homeowners who already pay property tax feeling like they’ve been taxed double.

What Happens If I Violate a Statute?

The limitations of how far a homeowner’s association can take a dispute are subject to the contract, and more so the governing laws of the abiding county, city, or state. The likely course is civil litigation, where the defendant is trying to avoid fines and possible expulsion from the neighborhood.  Board members’ temperament factors into how much trouble they can cause with your peace of mind, but most operate by the “live and let live” philosophy except in the case of egregious violations.

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