If you live in a common-interest development, you’re one of over 40 million American households that belong to a Home Owner’s Association. If you bought your property from a developer, you were required to become a member during the purchasing process. The covenants, conditions, and restrictions (CC&Rs) imposed by the Home Owner’s Association stay with the home when it’s sold, so if you bought from someone who was already subject to a Home Owner’s Association, becoming a member would have been one of the conditions of ownership.

What is a Home Owner’s Association?                                                                 

Home Owner’s Associations exist to govern and enforce certain rules about what you can and can’t do with your property. They also pay for common services, which can include private roads, green space, storm drains, or other features of the development’s shared infrastructure. The Association is typically run by a board made up of individual homeowners who are guided by the CC&Rs, bylaws, resolutions and applicable State laws. The Association holds significant power and can have a profound effect on the use and enjoyment of your property.

Home Owner’s Association members also have rights, however, and understanding those rights (along with your responsibilities) can avoid future conflicts. That’s why it’s so important to have a real estate attorney review all of the governing documents before you close the deal on your new home. Buried in the CC&Rs, you may find restrictions that you’re not prepared to abide by. Things like limits on pet ownership, house colors, the number of cars you can park and prohibitions on renting out your home.

What are my rights as a member?

If you are found to be in violation of the rules, the Home Owner’s Association can take legal action to enforce the contract between you and the Association. Sometimes that simply means forcing you to find somewhere else to park your vehicle, but it can also involve levying hefty fines. If you don’t pay and the dispute escalates, the Association can go so far as to compel the sale of your property.

As a member of the Home Owner’s Association, you have the right to a hearing before it can take action against you. You also have the right to be represented by an attorney. This is your opportunity to defend yourself against any charges of wrongdoing, and your success (or failure) will largely depend on the powers contained within the Association’s covenants and by-laws. The amount of the fine will also be limited by these regulations.

You also have the right to take action against the Association if you believe it has exceeded its authority. It cannot, for example, govern what kind of tree you plant in your front yard if that restriction is not clearly stated in the CC&Rs.

How do I stay out of trouble with the HOA?

When purchasing a property that’s subject to membership in a Home Owner’s Association, you’re entitled to receive a disclosure packet which will contain a declaration of covenants and by-laws. You will then have three days to walk away from the sale if you’re not comfortable with the rules you’ll have to follow. Understanding exactly what’s in those documents is the key to avoiding future problems. 

Over the years, you’ll pay a significant amount of money to the Home Owner’s Association, and in return, you’ll receive a variety of benefits and services. You’ll have a voice and a vote in your community and may share in the use of common assets like a swimming pool, park or recreation center. In return, however, you’ll be subject to certain restrictions and required to abide by the Association’s rules. A real estate attorney can help you define the impact those CC&Rs will have on your use of the property so that you can move in knowing exactly what’s expected of you. Know your responsibilities, and your rights, before making what may be the single biggest investment of your life.

The author, George Hawkins, is a Maryland and Virginia barred attorney at Dunlap Bennett & Ludwig PLLC

Posted in: Real Estate