What Is an HOA and How Does It Work?

You might think that a homeowner association (HOA), or someone you know, has the ultimate say in everything in your community. An HOA’s power is restricted and they cannot do anything they like. First, we’ll discuss what is an HOA. Then, we’re going to cover what they can and cannot do.

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Photo by Andrea Piacquadio

An HOA Defined

So, what is an HOA? It’s an abbreviation for homeowners’ association. This is a self-governing community group that collects fees to maintain common areas and enforce regulations. The HOA board is typically made up of volunteers or elected members who oversee the operation of the organization.

Some HOAs base their decisions on votes cast by the entire community, while others vote by proxy. This means that only a small number of people have the same voting rights as elected officials.

How Does an HOA Function?

An HOA is a body that governs a housing association. The HOA’s actions may vary depending on the needs of the community, but they usually collect fees to fund maintenance and upkeep within the community. They can also help with any issues that arise between neighbors. 

Most HOAs will have aesthetic rules. Yard maintenance, exterior decor, driveway parking, and home paint color are examples of these. Some associations will even limit the plants you can grow in your backyard. Homeowners who violate the HOA rules may be fined or penalized.

Are HOAs Legally Able?

The articles of incorporation and bylaws allow homeowners’ associations to be governed as a non-profit body. They can adopt community rules and bylaws. The Declaration of Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions, which explains the rules and regulations of the HOA, will be required to be reviewed by homeowners. Although HOAs can only take certain actions, the bylaws and rules of HOAs are legally binding if you reside within their jurisdiction.

Non-compliance to an HOA-mandated rule could result in a lien being placed on your house. You could also face foreclosure if you fail to pay fees or fines. Because it is a small governing body, the HOA can legally do so.

Can You Opt Out of Joining an HOA or Paying Fines?

You may not be required to join an HOA depending on what type it is.

Residents are not required to join voluntary homeowners associations. Non-members will not be subjected to their rules. They still manage community amenities such as pools, clubhouses, and other shared spaces. Without an HOA membership, you won’t likely have access to these features.

The mandatory homeowners association does not offer the option to non-membership. When purchasing certain homes, the homeowners will be automatically a part of the HOA. This means they must adhere to the bylaws as well as pay dues. New residents cannot opt-out of joining a mandatory HOA.

If you join an HOA, you cannot refuse to pay the fines. You are legally responsible for all penalties that you pay when you sign your membership papers. Your HOA may take legal action against you if you refuse to pay the fines, including liens or foreclosure.

What Can Homeowners Associations Do Legally?

The Declaration of Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions, which is a legal document, outlines the rules of an HOA. There are some things they can legally regulate in the community.

1. Property Maintenance

The rules about what you can and can’t do to your exterior property can be set by HOAs. You can be restricted in your paint colors and instructed to paint your house. They also have the power to fix things like gutters or peeling paint. They can force you to maintain your lawn on a regular basis. 

2. Dogs and Cats

A homeowners association can set rules regarding pet ownership. These rules may include restrictions on the number of pets allowed in your home, weight limits and breed restrictions. Many HOAs have rules regarding pet ownership, including how to keep your pet safe and clean. Some have designated areas for pet relief, such as condos or townhouses.

3. Decorations for the Outside

Do you like to decorate the exterior of your home? Check your HOA rules before you start putting up a holiday display. You may be restricted by HOA rules regarding the decorations that you can hang outside of your home. Some also have restrictions on when holiday decorations can be displayed.

4. Parking for Vehicles 

You will typically have a set number of parking spaces that you can use for yourself and your guests when you move into an HOA community, especially a condo community or townhome community. However, HOAs have the power and authority to require that certain vehicles be removed from the property, including RVs, boats, and even disabled cars.

5. Garbage Cans

To maintain the appearance of the entire community, your HOA may require that your trash cans be kept out of sight. You can also be required to keep coolers and utility meters out of view.

Creating New Rules

The HOA can put in effect new rules as long as it is approved by the community or board. The members of the board may also enforce regulations by imposing fines on homes for non-payment or filing a lien against a house. If members do not pay their dues, they can force a foreclosure.

These questions are important to ask HOA members before they lock you into the community guidelines.

What Can’t HOAs Do?

Despite all the power, HOAs have there are still certain things they cannot do.

1. Discriminate Against Residents

Fair Housing Act is a requirement for homeowners associations. This prohibits discrimination based on race or ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation and religion, disability, or gender. They are not allowed to discriminate against people who want to buy a home in their neighborhood, punish members without cause, or prevent people from joining the board.

2. Unjust Fines

The HOA must state the rule or regulation that the homeowner is breaking in order to levy fines. Ask the HOA to provide a list of possible fines before you move into a community. You can appeal against paying a fine that isn’t in the Covenants and Restrictions documents.

3. Rule on Things Not in the Covenants/Restrictions

The most important thing is that the HOA board cannot enforce rules outside the covenants/restrictions. The HOA must vote to add the rule to the guidelines if it is not in the rules. The board cannot ban things at will.

4. Removal of a Satellite Dish

According to FCC, the Over-the-Air Reception Devices Rule protects homeowners’ cable TV rights from HOA interference. Even if your HOA wishes to restrict this within the covenants/restrictions, they are still bound by law.