Last week, we celebrated the Fourth of July holiday visiting some friends out of town. As we sat outside enjoying the fireworks from all sides of us, one of the guests commented that his Home Owner's Association did not allow any fireworks in the neighborhood. This of course caused a lot of conversation about Home Owner's Associations and their rules. Ask anybody on the street or in your neighborhood their opinion on an HOA and you'll likely get an earful of information you really didn't want to hear. Whether you like them or don't, many of us living in confined spaces are governed by an HOA.
A Home Owners' Association (HOA) is a legal entity that governs a subdivision, condominium or townhome development, or planned community. They are really like mini-municipalities. HOA membership is mandatory for all property owners within the development. The HOA is run by a board, which is bound by the HOA bylaws, and board positions are filled by election or appointment. The HOA collects a fee assessment from all owners to maintain common areas, address legal and safety issues, and enforce restrictions that are applicable to that particular residential area. The HOA also provides residents with a platform to address common concerns of the community. In most new neighborhoods, the developer maintains the HOA for a period of time (usually until some percentage of the homes are built and sold) and then turns it over to a Board elected by the homeowners. Many HOA's exist in name only; they may be completely voluntary or exist more as a social connection to neighbors. Other HOA's are more focused on maintaining property values in the neighborhood and on legal and safety issues through strict rule enforcement. Many of the more formal and large HOA's employ an association management firm to collect dues, maintain the grounds, and serve as the rule enforcement arm for the neighborhood.
I've heard many stories over the years about HOA rules. Some rules are certainly more interesting than others. There are some associations who have rules about live animals - no dogs, no livestock, no snakes, etc. (I frankly wouldn't want to live in a subdivision that allowed snakes.) There are rules about clothes lines (guess we've all become accustomed to modern conveniences and no longer want to look at Grandpa's long underwear on the clothes line.) There are rules about campers and camping (I read about one association who protested a family living in a tent behind a house.) Some associations have rules about the kinds of vegetation you can plant in your yard (no zeroscaping allowed!) Many associations govern antennas, solar panels, and other attachments to your home. There are rules about cars being up on jacks in front of the house, cars being parked on the street, and eighteen wheelers being parked in the neighborhood. Some neighborhoods have rules about flag poles in front of homes. (Remember the case in Fieldstone Farms several years ago.) A few neighborhood rules prohibit the purchase of a property for rental. Many subdivisions have a review board to review paint colors, fences, decks, and any proposed additions to the home (we don't all have the same taste in paint colors do we?)
One of the many documents your Realtor may provide for you as you search for a new home are the Homeowner's Association Bylaws. It's always advisable to read the Homeowner's Association's Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions (C C R's) carefully before buying into a neighborhood. Who knows, your child may come home from college with a pet anaconda!