“Should I Live In A Home Owner’s Association?”

Neighborhoods that are governed by a Home Owners Association (HOA for short) are often very attractive; they are often cleaner, neater, and visually better looking than other neighborhoods. They can offer communal amenities such as pools and game rooms, or even golf courses. These are all solid upsides to living in an HOA.

There are a few downsides to consider, though. These are not deal-breakers for many people, but you need to go into home ownership in an HOA with your eyes open. Here are some important considerations:

Costs: HOA’s charge yearly or monthly membership dues. These funds are used to maintain the community areas, and can include everything from roads to driveways to clubhouses and more. Structures and roofs are even included in most condominium associations. You need to know what these are in advance, and you need to be aware that they can increase. The Board of Directors controls minor increases, and there can be significant raises by a vote of the homeowners either in the monthly assessments or in a special assessment to complete a particular project. If something like a major pool repair happens unexpectedly, the owners are all going to have to chip in to pay for it.

Rules: HOA’s make sure that the neighborhood is uniform by enforcing rules. These are contained in three places: the Codes, Covenants and Restrictions (called CC&R’s), the Bylaws, and the Rules for Use of Common areas. In addition, there may be an architectural code that you must follow for your residence. These rules can contain everything from pool hours to yard maintenance to what kind of doors you can put on your garage. You need to get them and read them in advance. One of the most common problems that can come up is work or recreational vehicles. Many associations ban the parking of commercial vehicles on the street or in driveways. This can be a real problem for someone who has a work truck that cannot fit into a garage, or someone who wants to park a mobilehome on one side of the driveway.

Neighbors: In an HOA, a neighbor who is unhappy with another neighbor can make a complaint to the HOA Board. Sometimes a bad neighbor can make for a bad experience, as they complain about any and all rule violations. Animosity can grow, meetings can grow tense, etc. In addition, an HOA is often a fertile hotbed for small-town politics.

Liens: You should be aware that unpaid association dues become automatic liens against your property and if you owe enough money and delay long enough in paying, your property can be foreclosed on by the HOA.

All of this may make living in an HOA sound like a bad idea. While this can be true, it suits many people and they like the additional structure provided by the HOA rules. The important thing is to read the rules and restrictions FIRST before you buy. You are entitled to all the rules prior to purchase and they should be provided to you when you are considering an offer. Don’t wait to read them until later—read them right away to make sure there are no deal-breakers for you in the documents, and avoid unpleasant surprises down the road.

DISCLAIMER: All legal principles quoted are valid as of the date of writing in the State of California. However, you should NEVER base your actions on a legal article, blog, or internet story, as facts in real life are complicated. You should have your case evaluated by an attorney experienced in the area of law needed for your case. In addition, there are often exceptions and potential changes to results that occur due to facts that you may think are trivial or unimportant. This article should not be taken in any way as legal advice on your specific legal matter.

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