Do you like to walk your dog early in the morning or late at night? Do you want to plant lilies in your yard? Prefer not to decorate your lawn for Christmas, because you are not Christian? Do you think that because you own a piece of property, you can do whatever you want with it? If you belong to a homeowners’ association, you may be wrong.
How many homes are covered by Homeowner Associations (HOAs)?
Homeowners’ associations (HOAs) usually exist in planned developments, condominium complexes or buildings, and gated communities. They are increasingly prevalent in the United States. According to a 2019 article in the Journal of Urban Economics: “In the U.S., nearly 60% of recently built single-family houses, and 80% of houses in new subdivisions, are part of a homeowners association (HOA)… houses in HOAs have prices that are on average at least 4%, or $13,500, greater than observably similar houses outside of HOAs.
What is the purpose of an HOA?
What do HOAs do that might motivate people to spend more money in order to belong to them through HOA fees which could range from $50 to $1000 a month, depening on where you live and the amenities you receive. The average fee is $170 a month, according to the United States Census Bureau’s American Housing Survey. Here are some examples of services and amenities that HOAs provide:
- Maintenance of outdoor spaces
- Swimming pools
- Club houses
- Parties and other social events for community members
- Clean up after natural disasters such as hurricanes, tornadoes, and floods
- Enforcement of community standards
Keeping property values UP!
One of the main purposes of an HOA is to preserve and improve the property values of the homes within the community. Since the appearance and value of the properties nearby and the overall community atmosphere strongly affects the value of each individual home, a mechanism by which standards may be enforced can be worthwhile.
To grow or not to grow?
Some people find themselves in HOAs with regulations that seem arbitrary, inconvenient, or just weird.
For example: “Chris” was an avid gardener who loved lilies. He had an Instagram account devoted to his pictures of lilies and was excited to expand his displays of lilies when he moved from a row home in Philadelphia with limited gardening space into a house in the New Jersey suburbs with a large back and front yard.
Little did Chris know that the president of the HOA was allergic to lilies. In their haste to secure what they thought was their dream home in the suburbs while they were expecting their first child, Chris and his wife did only a cursory read through the HOA regulations in the community they were joining. Had they read more carefully, they would have seen that lilies were expressly forbidden by the HOA rules.
After years of renting in West Philadelphia where everyone plants anything they want, Chris could not fathom that his beloved lilies were outlaws in his new community. But the rules were clear. He pulled up his lilies, and now he plants marigolds.
Laws Vary By State
Laws governing what HOAs can and cannot do vary tremendously from state to state. That’s one reason why it’s so important to consult an experienced real estate attorney when contemplating buying a home in a community governed by an HOA. While Chris’ lilies found themselves with no recourse under the law, some states have laws that protect specific plants. Texas and California have laws that protect homeowners’ rights to grow native plants on their property. In Florida, HOAs can not object to plants purely on the grounds that they conflict with neighborhood design.
Some states have laws that require HOAs not to restrict homeowners’ right to “solar drying,” also known as hanging their clothes out to dry on a clothesline. New Jersey, however, is not one of these states, so if you prefer to dry your clothes in the sun, read the HOA regulations carefully before you buy.
How is an HOA governed?
An HOA is usually controlled by an elected Board of Directors and may have officers serving on a board. Most HOAs in New Jersey are set up as nonprofit corporations and are governed by the New Jersey Nonprofit Corporation Act. They must have legal documents including bylaws, which set up voting procedures, management structure, what responsibilities the board will have, and other rules that govern the operation of the association. As a homeowner, it may benefit you to become involved in your HOA, especially if controversies arise in which you wish to have a voice.
What are assessments?
In addition to monthly fees, if it is voted on by the membership in a procedure outlined by its governing documents, an HOA can require an assessment of its members. Assessments may cover unexpected events such as damage caused by a natural disaster. If you live in an area that is prone to storms such as hurricanes or floods, you might want to check your HOA’s records to find out how often assessments to cover storm damage occurred, and in what amount. If you belong to an HOA, it is required to give you access to its records. This is a question you should ask before you decide to buy a home in a community covered by an HOA.
When Chris and Maryanne moved from the home they rented in Philadelphia to a home close to the Jersey Shore they assumed that their own homeowners’ insurance and the HOA’s insurance would cover the costs of clean up after storms, and did consider the possibility of assessments. Fortunately, when an assessment was made to repair storm damage to the community fitness center, homeowners could pay it in installments over two years.
I don’t like what my HOA is doing. What recourse do I have?
HOAs usually have both informal and formal procedures for resolving disputes. This may begin with informal discussion between the homeowners and the HOA, proceed up to mediation and even arbitration before a neutral third party. The purpose of these procedures, as set out in the HOA’s legal documents, is to avoid expensive and drawn-out legal proceedings and to minimize strife within the community. It is best to understand your HOA’s procedures long before you might get into a dispute. Be sure to review them fully with a real estate attorney before you buy.
Navigating the Pros and Cons of an HOA
HOAs work best when they function as a group of people joining together to provide resources that each could not provide on their own. HOA funded and maintained swimming pools, picnic areas and playgrounds can make for a stronger community where people know their neighbors and experience a sense of belonging and security. They can also increase property values. HOAs can provide security, which some may find improves their peace of mind. Upholding community standards, such as maintaining reasonable limits on noise levels or how one can decorate the parts of their property that are visible to passersby, can make life more pleasant for all.
However, if you have always wanted to display a flamboyance of pink flamingo lawn ornaments in front of your first house, you might want to consult the HOA’s rules and regulations and talk to a real estate attorney before you buy.
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The posts provided here are not legal advice. The laws of each state are not the same and what may be true in one place, may not be true in another. Furthermore, the nuances of each legal matter may make good advice to one-person, bad advice to another.
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