While buying a new home is exciting and fun, there is always an adjustment period to new neighbors, new commutes, and, sometimes, new rules.
Luckily, your new neighborhood’s homeowner’s association (HOA) lays these rules out nicely.
What is an HOA?
An HOA is a board of elected residents who oversee and enforce rules for a subdivision, planned community, or condominium building. These rules can cover anything from the color of your door to the height of your grass. HOA rules often boil down to common courtesy and respect for others, and they help keep your neighborhood beautiful. Isn’t that why you fell in love with your new home and your community in the first place?
Asking for a copy of your HOA’s Covenants, Codes, and Restrictions of Sale document (CC&R) takes the guesswork out of what’s allowed in your neighborhood. By adhering to HOA’s rules, you can ensure a pleasant experience in your new neighborhood. Fail to abide, however, and you might find yourself with a huge headache – not to mention notices and fines – on your hands. Before you sign the dotted line on your new mortgage, familiarize yourself with your HOA and its amenities – and rules.
Here are some common, sure-fire ways to get on your HOA’s bad side:
1. Being Oblivious to the Rules
Most HOAs have the power to impose fines, collect dues, file a lien on your property, or even take you to court. That’s why it’s so important to review local HOA rules before you buy a home. Take the time to read and understand the CC&R and other HOA rules.
Most of the time, homeowner’s associations enforce rules not to be difficult, but to protect the value of your investment. If you don’t think you can live under the stated terms and conditions, you might reconsider buying in that neighborhood.
Because HOAs are in the position of sometimes turning down a resident’s request, they may get a bad rep. Again, keep in mind that HOA regulations are designed to preserve and boost the value of the neighborhood. HOA’s are also designed to create a process for orderly and fair debate.
2. Not Abiding by the Rules
It’s one thing to obtain and know the rules – but you have to actually follow them. While most rules are no-brainers, there are some that are easy to break.
For instance, perhaps your yard has gone a little too long between mows, or your fence is broken, or you left your garbage bins out for one night too long. These small infractions could lead to bigger problems if your HOA gets involved.
Typically, the consequence for failing to follow guidelines is paying a fine, but if you continue to ignore and break rules, the HOA is authorized to place a lien on your property or suspend your rights to use common facilities (such as the pool, fitness center, or playgrounds).
3. Complaining Without Getting Involved
The rules and regulations established by the HOA can seem unfair or ridiculous at times. If you are curious about how these rules originate and want your voice heard, consider joining your neighborhood’s HOA. Besides getting to know your neighbors, you’ll also gain deeper insight on why the rules exist. This also may give you the opportunity to change or modify the current ones.
If you aren’t the association type, learn what the appeal process is – most HOA’s have such a process. Also keep in mind that the “faceless” HOA is usually composed of your fellow neighbors: unpaid volunteers who are, at times, forced to make tough calls.
4. Renovating or Decorating Without Permission
When moving into a new home, one of the first things people want to do is personalize. Whether you want to paint your doors, or display your favorite sports flag, checking your HOA’s guidelines should always be your first step in a new project.
Most HOA’s require approval before homeowners can make major changes to the outside of their home. Whenever you are considering a renovation, paint project, or any other significant exterior cosmetic change (including solar panels), it is best to submit a request for approval to your HOA first.
5. Displaying Signs of a Political Nature
Rules for displaying political affiliations in an HOA community can vary from state to state. Typically, there is a window of time within the voting season during which you can display signs or banners. These dates should be listed in the CC&Rs.
6. Not Following the Paws Clause
Or maybe it should be “claws”? Puns aside, one thing that might turn you off from HOA communities is the limit or reasonable limitations on pets. Some HOAs limit the number of pets per household, while others can put restrictions on breeds or size of your pets.
If pets are permitted, be mindful of the noise and mess that they can make (including those messes made on your evening walks around the block). Remember that not everyone in your neighborhood will be comfortable with animals, so keep pets leashed when outside of your home.
7. Having Long-term Guests
You might see a condition about long-term guests when reviewing your CC&Rs. These restrictions are not put in place to stop you from having guests, but rather to hinder any unauthorized rental agreements. Most neighborhoods want the percentage of owner-residents high, so there is a limit of how many houses can be rented.
Having a few friends over for the weekend or hosting your family holiday celebrations are fine as long as you are considerate of your neighbors – that includes respecting their parking spaces, common spaces, sidewalks, and yards, as well as controlling noise and street parking.
8. Not Maintaining a Clean Aesthetic
It might seem tedious, but keeping the neighborhood clean is part of an HOA’s job – and part of the appeal of living in the neighborhood. Some aesthetic rules might include: not leaving your trash cans visible, not placing trash cans or bulk pick-up items on the curb too soon, responsibility to maintain the yard (including grass, trees, and shrubs), responsibility to fix broken fences and lightbulbs, and more.
Why the “pickiness”? Plenty of reasons. Putting your garbage out too early is a magnet for all types of rummaging animals, as well as an eyesore. Broken structural elements are eyesores as well, not to mention dangerous.
You might also want to refer to the CC&Rs for any rules about recycling or composting in your neighborhood.
9. Abusing your Amenities
One benefit of living in an HOA community is enjoying certain amenities – community pools, tennis courts, fitness centers, and parks. Residents have private access to these facilities but may be allowed to bring a limited number of guests. The facilities are maintained by HOA members so you don’t have to worry about the upkeep.
That means you should be respectful of common areas – don’t leave your picnic trash in the park, don’t take over the entire pool with your child’s birthday party (unless you’ve reserved it), and don’t invite everyone from your recreational volleyball team to use the sand court whenever they please. Be sure you follow the rules for guest limits, noise, hours of use, and reservations.