Why do some people roll their eyes when they hear the words “homeowners association?” HOAs generally do a lot of good for the people who belong to these planned developments, but, like any community, they can present their own unique challenges and frustrations.
HOAs govern residential communities, including single-family neighbourhoods, townhomes, condominiums and subdivisions. HOAs share many similarities with other communities that are not part of an association. The major differences are that HOAs collect dues from owners, take care of some maintenance, and follow specific rules to promote a safe and well-maintained living environment.
Let’s say you find a neighbourhood that you love, but you find out that it is an established HOA. Can you move in without joining the association? The short answer is no, but we’ll take a deeper look at why that is in this article.
Benefits of HOAs
There are many benefits to joining an HOA. Most people who opt to move into a planned development do so because they like having access to private amenities such as a pool, playground, basketball court, clubhouse, etc. However, many HOAs also take care of annoying chores like snow shovelling, landscaping and limited maintenance. This frees up time and gives owners things to do without having to travel far from home.
Some people also appreciate the fact that the association has authority to enforce rules, which means neighbours can’t party until 2am or grow wild plants without facing consequences. An HOA board has certain powers that enable members to issue fines, revoke access, or in rare instances, place a lien on the owner’s home. By moving into the HOA, you have a contractual obligation to pay your dues and follow all of the rules written in the governing documents. The CC&Rs are legally binding, which means owners can’t pick and choose the rules they’d like to follow.
Why some people don’t like HOAs
The perks listed above don’t come for free. In exchange for access to amenities and services, each owner is expected to pay fees, also known as dues, to the association. While dues vary, some are more costly than others. That’s not necessarily a bad thing (HOAs that charge too little often end up in financial trouble later on), but some people are turned off by the fact that they will need to pay more money in addition to covering their mortgage and property taxes. HOA fees will vary for different associations. The average fee is $200 to $300 each month, but that can increase depending on several factors. For example, if an HOA has lots of amenities, it will also have higher upkeep costs, which results in higher fees.
The rules also prevent some people from moving into a planned development. HOAs may have strict rules about what kind of grass you can use on your lawn, what type of car you can park on the property and even what colours you can use to paint your front door. The doesn’t sit well with everyone, which is why they choose not to be a part of an HOA.
Opting out of an existing HOA community
If you purchase a home in a neighbourhood or condominium that is governed by an existing homeowners association, then you must join. Simply put, this requirement is a condition of your purchase. If you don’t want to be a part of the association, then you should not purchase a home in an HOA community.
Occasionally, a subdivision or planned development may consider organizing an HOA retroactively. The current owners might want to enforce rules on existing properties, or find a realistic way to create and maintain shared amenities or outdoor spaces. In this case, if you already own a home in that neighbourhood, you cannot be forced to join.
Similarly, sometimes a community with a voluntary HOA will move towards becoming a mandatory HOA community. This decision is commonly made because of dwindling finances or low participation, which are both needed to continue with the upkeep of the community. In these situations, homeowners do not need to join. However, they may want to opt-in if the benefits of membership are compelling enough.
An association can be created to include as many households that are willing to participate. The CC&Rs can then dictate a provision stating that once any households which have chosen to opt-out of the association are sold, the new owners will be required to join the HOA.
Dissolving an HOA
It is possible to dissolve an HOA, but the process is not a short one. There are many difficult steps involved, and it is very costly. Generally, it takes support from 80% of homeowners to get rid of an association. Carefully review your CC&Rs and your state laws to see what is required to dissolve the association.
If most of the community is on board with dissolving the HOA, after reviewing the requirements, the next step is to hire an attorney with experience in this matter. The dissolution of an association is a legal process, and the collective group of owners will need professional legal representation.
How to make meaningful changes in your association
If you are unhappy with the current state of your HOA, you can always move out. Unfortunately, that isn’t an easy or affordable option.
Alternatively, if you want to see a change in management, the unnecessary bylaws or rules, expensive assessments, etc., you can take on more responsibility in your community. One of the best things you can do is get involved! Attend board meetings and express your concerns or ideas. Run for the board and lead new initiatives or get the financial health of the community in order. As a board member, you do have certain powers, and you can be more influential than other members. You could even look at finding solutions to improve the community’s operations and connectively, such as HOA management software.
HOAs can be wonderful places to live, but not everyone is excited to be a part of an association. There is absolutely no obligation to move into an HOA, however, if you buy a home that already belongs to an HOA, you are obligated to pay dues and follow the rules. Keep in mind that every homeowners association has its own governing documents. Some may have a lot of rules, but not every HOA is so restrictive. If you are considering moving into and HOA, you can always ask to review a copy of the governing documents to see what is and what is not permitted.