Being unaware of community restrictions could spell trouble for you when it comes time to move in.
When you move into a new home, there’s a long list of things that you’re probably wondering: how to work your heat and air conditioning system, what day is trash pickup, and what your neighbors are like. But there are two important items to check off your list before you purchase your home: your HOA’s powers and your neighborhood’s CC&R.
What is a CC&R?
The Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions (CC&Rs) are the rules of your neighborhood. The CC&R outlines your community’s household dos and don’ts, and the requirements and limitations of what you can do with your property. The goal of the CC&Rs is to protect, preserve, and enhance property values in the community.
What is an HOA?
A Homeowners’ Association (HOA) is the governing body of a subdivision, planned community or condominium, and is headed by a board of volunteers who are usually members of the community. If you buy a property governed by a homeowners’ association, you’re an official member of that HOA and must contribute monthly or yearly payments. The HOA’s function is to enforce the rules laid out in your community’s CC&R.
When it comes time to add that screened-in porch you always wanted or a flagpole in your front yard, the community restrictions could spell trouble for you. Here’s what you should know about HOAs and CC&Rs.
The HOA is not out to get you.
It may seem as if your HOA is trying to make your life miserable by placing certain restrictions on things such as what color you can paint your home, but the truth is, “HOAs actually are set up as a corporation that benefits the membership by increasing property values and allowing each member to enjoy the common-area amenities,” explains Joe Winkler, vice president of marketing with Keystone Pacific Property Management in Irvine, CA. “This can be done by reasonably enforcing the governing documents and making sure the association is clean, attractive, and provides ways for members to build a sense of community.”
So while it can be frustrating to receive a notice about your lawn’s scraggly state, it’s in the best interest of the whole neighborhood — including yours — to mow it and keep your yard in check.
The rules are amenable.
It’s true that most HOAs have a fair amount of power, but the people who run the organization can make all the difference. “As a member of the corporation or community, each member has the power to elect fellow members who they feel best represent the values of the overall membership,” says Winkler. “In addition, each member can run for the board themselves or get on a committee like architectural or landscape. This is a great way to give positive input on how the association is run.”
Bottom line: If you don’t like the way your HOA enforces the rules (or you don’t like the rules themselves), it might be a good idea to take on a role within the organization, or attend the HOA open forum to voice your concerns.
Assuming what you don’t know about the CC&R can’t hurt you.
Oh, but it can. “The wrong way to learn the rules is to break them,” says Vera Kiser, a licensed property manager and former community association manager in Atlanta. “If there is something an owner likes to do on the exterior of their home, like wash or fix cars, let neighbors parallel-park, hold pool parties, or remove trees from their property,” it’s wise to read the rules before buying the home, says Kiser.
If you or your tenant break a rule detailed in the CC&R, many HOAs are given the power to place liens on your home, and if they do, selling that home can be difficult, if not impossible. Worst-case scenario? Your home could be foreclosed on and the property could be sold to settle your debt.
Your vote matters.
In many instances, not voting causes more problems than there are in many communities with active neighbors. “This [thinking] is exactly how lunatics get in and make poor or personal decisions with your HOA dues,” says Kiser. “Always vote. As the saying goes, ‘Don’t vote, don’t complain.’”
You’ll still have a voice in a neighborhood with only CC&Rs.
Not so, says Sharon Voss, president of the Orlando Regional Realtor Association. “Homeowners whose CC&Rs are not being upheld can often turn to their local city or county government code enforcement,” she explains. “CC&R specifics frequently run parallel to municipal codes, so a violation against a CC&R is likely to also be a violation against a municipal code.”
Tenants are more likely to behave under CC&R.
“I’ve professionally managed both renters in covenant communities and owners in the same,” says Kiser. “I’ve found that renters often care for the property better than the absent owner, and it’s the owner that is throwing the wild parties and leaving trash at the pool. Tenants are extremely responsive to CC&Rs if they know about them before they are blindsided with a violation letter. Tenants know they are looked down upon anyway and can be forced out of a community faster than an owner can, so who do you think will want to keep the lowest profile? Tenant or an owner?”
HOA membership is rarely optional.
In a word: rarely. “If you want to be free to do whatever you want with your home, or don’t want to pay dues if you don’t use the pool, be sure you know if you are buying into a mandatory HOA or an optional one,” advises Kiser.