For more than 57 million Americans, homeowner's associations regulate everything from the color of their home to when they can have the garage door open. They also can force homeowners into foreclosure.
Other things HOAs commonly regulate include:
- Shingles and exterior paint color.
- Fences and hedges: whether you can have them at all, and if so, what type, color and how tall -- right down to the inches.
- Trees, lawns and weeds: what types of plants can be put in and even how many times a month you must water and mow your lawn.
- Pools: These are often hot-button items. Boards regulate whether owners can have pools, diving boards and how large they can be. Community pools often come with strict rules on times they can be used, supervision of youngsters and whether guests are allowed.
- Swing sets and basketball hoops: At some communities these are big no-nos. At others, they must be small and out of sight. Owners often get into trouble if they are in the front yard.
- Garages and sheds: Unauthorized sheds are another sticking point, and junky garages will get you in trouble, as will leaving your garage door up.
- Mailboxes and garbage cans: size, color and types. Also, leaving garbage cans out for more than a day can get you fined.
- Pets: size, type and breeds. Dogs off leashes are usually prohibited. Limits to the amount of pets i.e. two dogs allowed.
- Outdoor lights: One family got in trouble for leaving their tasteful, white decorative Christmas lights up until February. Know what types of lights and how many are allowed.
- Parking on your lawn: Many associations does not allow owners or visitors to park on lawn.
What you should know before buying into a homeowner's association
Once you have an eye on a home, ask the real estate agent if it is part of a homeowner's association. If it is, make sure you take the following steps*:
- Get copies of the governing documents from the association manager.
- If you don't understand the rules, ask your real estate agent or lawyer for help.
- Take time to talk to people who live there about the association.
- Know how much the assessments are.
- If you are on a tight budget, find out how easy it is for the board to increase the assessment amount.
- Does the community have a cash reserve for new projects?
- Are there restrictions on renting?
- Do you feel comfortable with the architectural guidelines?
- What are the rules on pets, flags, satellite dishes, fences, patios and home businesses?
- If you are considering an age-restricted community, what is the policy on underage residents and visitors?
- Consider whether the rules fit your lifestyle and sense of community.
*Tips provided by the Community Associations Institute