WHAT IS AN HOA?

What is a HOA

HOA stands for homeowners’ association. An HOA is the governing body of the neighborhood you live in. The purpose of an HOA is to maintain the homeowner’s quality of life and protect the community’s property values. When you buy a house in a leased-land property or a gated community, you are required to join that neighborhood’s homeowners’ association.

Average monthly HOA fees range from $200 to $400. Fees are used to maintain the community’s common areas, which may include: Landscaping, sidewalks, fitness areas, swimming pools, tennis courts, and clubhouses.

Homeowners’ associations also set rules for their community. These rules are in the forms of Articles of Incorporation, CC&Rs (covenants, conditions, and restrictions), and By-Laws. These codes of conduct may dictate: House paint color, number and type of pets, type and height of fencing, and kinds of vehicles allowed to park in the driveway or street.

An HOA is led by a board of directors. At the conception of a planned community, developer-appointed members will make up the board. Eventually, as the land/home ownership shifts away from the developer, the board of directors will consist of homeowners.

HOAs vs HOCAs

Homeowners’ associations (HOAs) and condominium associations (HOCAs) are similar but have some distinct differences.

HOAs govern communities of detached, single-family homes. Homeowners individually own their house and lot, and the HOA owns the community’s common areas.

HOCAs govern communities of semi-attached townhouses or multi-family buildings. Each resident owns his own unit, while the condo association and resident jointly own the building and its grounds.

An HOA’s fees range from $200 to $400 a month, and cover upkeep of common areas, such as a club house and swimming pool. Each homeowner is financially responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of his own house and lot.

A HOCA’s monthly fees tend to be higher, in some cases as much as $700. The condo association fees must fund upkeep of the condo roof and exterior, as well as maintenance of roadways, landscaping, parking lots, swimming pools, playgrounds, and more. In addition, CA fees normally cover water, sewer, and garbage collection.

What is a Co-Op?

A co-op is a cooperative housing complex owned by a corporation. When you buy an apartment in a co-op building, rather than buying real property, you buy shares in the corporation. Normally, the larger the apartment, the more shares you are entitled to. The shares grant you a proprietary lease to the unit.

Co-op shareholders pay a monthly fee, which usually covers heat, hot water, insurance, real estate taxes, the mortgage debt of the building, and staff salaries.

Co-ops have an approval process that HOAs and CAs do not. In general, you must apply and interview with the co-op board before being approved to live in a housing unit. Co-op boards have the power to approve or deny applicants.

HOA Articles of Incorporation

An HOA’s governing documents are articles of incorporation, CC&Rs, bylaws, and rules and regulations.

The articles of incorporation, or “articles,” are created when an HOA is first formed. They are short documents, which set the name, location, and purpose of the HOA. They will identify the initial agent – the person authorized to handle legal notices on the HOA’s behalf. Topics such as directors, voting, and amendments may be added.

A homeowners’ association will draw up the articles of incorporation and file them with the secretary of state. This makes the HOA a legal entity – a nonprofit mutual benefit corporation. These articles are often drawn up for unincorporated homeowners’ associations as well.

It is not necessary for homeowners to review the articles of incorporation.

 

Covenants, Conditions & Restrictions (CC&R)

An HOA’s governing documents are articles of incorporation, CC&Rs, bylaws, and rules and regulations.

CC&R stands for covenants, conditions, and restrictions. This is a legally binding document, drawn up by the HOA, that outlines the rules of your neighborhood. Every homeowner must abide by the rules, restrictions, terms, and conditions in the CC&R.

The CC&R is the lengthiest of the governing documents, as it covers issues including:

  • Property-use restrictions
  • Maintenance obligations of individual members
  • Assessments
  • Insurance
  • Lender protection
  • Rule enforcement and dispute resolution


A vote by membership is required to amend a CC&R. A copy of the document and amendments are kept on file with the state.

It is a good idea to obtain a copy of your HOA’s CC&R and familiarize yourself with its contents.

HOA BYLAWS

An HOA’s governing documents are articles of incorporation, CC&Rs, bylaws, and rules and regulations. The bylaws describe how the HOA is governed. This document will lay out important guidelines which often include:

  • Nomination and election process for board members
  • Number, term length, and responsibilities of board members
  • Frequency of board meetings, and whether they are open or closed
  • Procedures for creating the budget and setting assessment amounts


Unlike articles of incorporation and CC&Rs, bylaws are not kept on file with the state. Therefore, changes are easier to make.

HOA Rules and Regulations

An HOA’s governing documents are articles of incorporation, CC&Rs, bylaws, and rules and regulations.

The rules and regulations document include rules not already addressed in the CC&R. For example, this may include rules that require revisions over time due to changes in the community.

When adopting a new rule, the board will typically provide notice to community members who will then have 30 days to look over the details. The board will review members’ comments and concerns before deciding whether to implement the rule.

The rules and regulations are not kept on file with the state and are therefore easier to change.

When in doubt, CC&Rs will always take precedence over rules and regulations.

HOA Dog Rules

HOAs may set a variety of rules regarding man’s best friend. Because we tend to love our dogs and treat them like family, it is beneficial to review a community’s canine laws prior to moving in.

First, there is usually a limit on the number of dogs allowed in a home. One or two may be the maximum permitted per household to keep down noise levels and waste produced.

Second, certain dog breeds may be banned. An association may prohibit pit bulls, for instance, due to their reputation for causing harm to children and other pets.

Third, an HOA may have a weight restriction for each pooch. For example, a 25-30-pound limit might be on the books for communities wanting to accommodate only smaller pets, with the hope they will be quieter and create less waste.

Additional rules may include keeping dogs on a leash while outside, cleaning up waste while walking them, and bringing a pup indoors if he is barking too long.

HOA Cat Rules

Around 30% of Americans own at least one cat. Generally quiet, well-behaved animals, felines seldom create problems compared to their canine counterparts. Therefore, fewer laws are established by homeowners’ associations pertaining to cat ownership.

If an HOA does write laws regarding cats, they may limit the number of kitties in each home. It is also possible they may require cats be on a leash when outdoors. This law may fall under an “all pets must be on a leash” rule. Communities may prefer cats be restrained on a leash, so they do not use the neighbor’s flower bed as a litter box.

Most cat owners keep their felines indoors, so hearing from your HOA regarding your finicky friends should be uncommon.

HOA Fees

A great feature of living in an HOA-governed community is access to amenities such as swimming pools, clubhouses, playgrounds, and tennis courts. Another perk is not having to mess with maintenance and repairs. However, there is a cost for these conveniences. It is all rolled into your monthly HOA fees.

As of 2015, the average homeowners’ association fee was $331. Depending on the HOA, dues may cover:

  • City services such as trash removal, water, and sewer
  • Maintenance and repairs on a home’s exterior
  • Lawn care, gardening, and snow removal
  • Pest control services
  • Upkeep and staff for the community’s common spaces, such as a clubhouse, gym, and swimming pool
  • Building insurance
  • Reserve funds for large-scale projects and emergencies


You may be able to have a voice in setting HOA fees. By attending association meetings or running for a board position, you can get involved in negotiating service costs, insurance policies, etc.

Finally, what are the consequences if a homeowner fails to pay HOA dues? A homeowners’ association may begin with the normal collection process. If this attempt is unsuccessful, they may file a civil suit against the delinquent homeowner or initiate foreclosure on the property.

HOA Board of Directors

A homeowners’ association is governed by a board of directors. The board is made up of eligible homeowners who are elected by all HOA members. Officers of the board include a president, vice president, secretary, and treasurer. Board elections generally take place every few years during an annual meeting, and board members are typically uncompensated for their service.

The board of directors has the responsibility to manage and operate the association. A board’s duties may include:

  • Developing a workable budget and creating reserve funds
  • Selecting an attorney, auditor, insurance agent, and other professionals
  • Appointing committees
  • Establishing, announcing, and enforcing rules
  • Collecting assessments


Members of the board have a fiduciary relationship with the association, and therefore, must maintain high standards of trust and responsibility.

Can an HOA Place a Lien on my Property?

One of the primary functions of a homeowners’ association is to collect assessments and fees. When a new homeowner moves into an HOA-governed community, they are required to join the HOA and pay monthly dues. The fees cover insurance, maintenance, landscaping, and amenities such as swimming pools, play equipment, and clubhouses. At times, homeowners may be required to pay a one-time assessment for a significant repair or improvement to the community.

If a homeowner fails to pay their dues or assessments, an HOA has authority to act. They may start with the normal collection process. If unsuccessful, a homeowners’ association can file a lawsuit against the indebted homeowner. They may request that the court issue a judgment granting the HOA permission to sell the home to satisfy the lien.

Depending on state law, an HOA may be able to avoid the courts and initiate foreclosure on the property by following procedures set by the state and the association’s CC&Rs.

An HOA’s ability to foreclose on a property will depend on state law. California, for example, requires fees and assessments total $1,800 or a delinquency be at least 12 months old before foreclosure can be initiated by an HOA.

In addition to being liable for unpaid fees, a homeowner may be required to compensate the HOA for late fees, attorney fees, interest, and fines.