Since Aaron and I bought our condo last year we’ve been learning quite a bit about what it means to live in a home with an HOA board. An HOA or Homeowners’ Association, is a property owners’ organization that creates and enforces rules within a development, subdivision, or a condo complex. If you purchase a home in a HOA-governed area, you’ll need to abide by regulations and pay related dues to the HOA on a monthly or annual basis. (Here is a helpful document I found that talks about what to consider Before You Purchase an HOA.)
There can definitely be perks to living in a community with an HOA. The goal of an HOA, ideally, is to keep a certain standard in place for the property owners’ investment. In that regard, HOA’s are a very good thing. The downfall of an HOA comes in when you want to make a decision that the HOA disagrees with or has some concerns with. It feels weird to own a property and to have to ask someone else (a group of someone else’s;) for permission to do something you want to do. But, that’s what happens.
When we wanted to put in our washer and dryer we ran into an HOA issue. We had to submit a letter to the board from our contractor which explained what we wanted to do, how much energy the washer and dryer would use (it’s a very old building so the electrical aspect was an issue), and we had to show that the contractor had insurance. Really, it felt a lot like we were kids having to ask our parents for permission… that’s an odd feeling to have as an adult.
We’ve also learned that there are a lot of politics that go into HOA boards. Power struggles, egos, and control issues come into play. In many ways, belonging to an HOA-governed community is similar to what it seems like it would be like to be on the TV show, Survivor. There are side conversations happening, hidden agendas, and even scheming!
Get this, we once overheard a conversation between a board member and another owner as they were huddled together near the dumpster and I swear it felt like they were building an alliance. The whole thing was so strange.
One of the least desirable parts of being a part of an HOA community is the whole monthly fees thing. We pay a few hundred dollars a month in fees and it’s discouraging to only get a little say in how that money is used, AND, since we aren’t officially on The Board our say on what happens with the money doesn’t even officially count! The fees also have the potential to raise quite a bit if the board decides that a special assessment is necessary or if there is an emergency situation with the property. What we owe per month in just fees could potentionally vary greatly from what it was when we originally bought our unit, and it already has risen over $100 per month just in the year since we’ve lived here.
It seems like we’re not alone with our HOA issues since every time I talk to my friends about problems we’re running into they have similar horror stories to tell. Good to know we’re not alone BUT how do you cope with all that mess?
Here are 9 ways to retain your sanity while dealing with HOA’s…
1. Get Familiar With the Laws
Each homeowners association has bylaws which outlines all you need to know about living on the right side of the HOA laws. It is in your best interest to become familiar with these regulations so you don’t break any of the “laws” due to ignorance. HOA rules can dictate everything from what color you can paint your house to how tall your grass should be!
So, to protect yourself before you purchase into an HOA-governed home (or community) request a copy of the HOA bylaws, past meeting minutes, and the financial statements. By seeing how the meetings have been run, what issues have come up with repairs, how much money is in the reserves, and what the upcoming year’s anticipated costs are are vital when deciding if a property is a good investment or not.
You can even ask to attend an HOA meeting and see about talking with a board member for additional insights into the property. I would guess that the board member would sugar coat any potential problems or concerns you may have since it would be in their best interest to have the property sell for the highest price possible and quickly but you ever know, you just might be able to get the real scoop. Ask questions that require more than a one word response and try to get them talking about things they might not have planned for.
Even if you LOVE the property you’ll be able to see if you want to get involved with the people on the board or not which is something that can definitely affect your quality of life.
2. Know the Fine Process
Did you know that HOA’s can enforce monetary fines on you for disobeying their regulations? It’s true! So, it is important to understand the fining process in the event you receive one. Ideally, you should pay the fine and move on. However, if you have a serious issue with the fine you may need to take further steps. There is the option to pursue a legal case against your HOA through the court system or you can ask for a variance from the board which will allow you to be heard by other members of the HOA in a hearing-style meeting.
3. Know Your Allies
Even if you are new to the neighborhood, it can be comforting to know that you already have things in common with your neighbors. They are involved in the same HOA which can be a great icebreaker to get to know other people. Not only is it nice to make new friends but you’ll likely need these same people as allies should your new HOA prove to be too difficult to handle.
Morale of the story: build your alliance, don’t burn bridges, and tread lightly until you know who the shot callers are… they might not be the president and board members like you would assume.
4. Participate In Your Community
Sometimes things look different from the outside looking in. Make sure to participate in the events and meetings related to the HOA. The more you educate yourself on the methods used by the HOA board, the less likely you are to have problems by not staying informed about matters of importance.
Be sure to go to the meetings even if you’re not an HOA board member. By doing so you’ll be able to stay up on things that are impacting your investment and you’ll be able to learn if there are any issues coming up which might be worthy of a special assessment (a project that would cost additional money every month, in addition to your regular fees).
5. Seek Election
If you are not pleased with the way your HOA board is handling things, consider running for election as a member of the board. If you have a true passion for making your community what it should be, being a member of the board will give you opportunities to make a positive difference.
We had our baby when the elections took place last November so we unfortunately had to miss our board member voting meeting but we met with a neighbor of ours and appeared at the meeting by proxy so we could still get a vote.
6. Don’t Be Spiteful
If you have accepted the fact your new home is governed by an HOA, don’t intentionally challenge them because you don’t like the rules.
We have a neighbor who gets fired up in the evening and sends emails to every home owner signed by, “The Troll Under the Stairs”. Eek. Yes. What I’ve learned is that what she’s doing is only alienating herself from everyone else and it’s showing the other owners that maybe her discretion and decision-making skills are a little rocky. You want your opinion to count even in small matters so act in a way that gives you credibility and doesn’t diminish it. If you get upset about an issue be sure to cool off before hitting that big ol’ SEND button.
7. Don’t Miss Your Dues Payments
The reality about homeowner association dues is that you are legally bound to pay them or the HOA can actually foreclose on your home over the debt you owe. You can be evicted from your property and your home can be sold out from under you. Know the amount due and what the due dates are and pay what you owe consistently.
Our home buying process was actually delayed quite a bit because there was lien against the property since the past owner didn’t pay her homeowner association dues. It’s a double-edged sword situation because the HOA then has to use its funds to fight the case instead of having those funds go to improve and keep up the property you invested in.
8. Make Your Point in Writing
If you have a beef with your HOA, make sure to document your correspondence and activities in writing. In the event you need to pursue further action of a legal nature, you’ll have the documentation to support your case. In the event your HOA board is not cooperative or is intentionally avoiding the matter, you’ll likely need to see professional legal advice to move further.
9. Remember You Do Have Some Power
Not every HOA works the same and you do have the right to know if the HOA is working for you. You are paying the dues to the association so you do have a right to expect they are acting in your best interest as well as in the general interest of all involved. There are some unsavory practices making headlines in the news these days so it is advisable to know what you will be paying for when scouting out a home in a HOA zone. (This is an older article but it has some good points: The Dark Side of HOA’s.)
Did I leave anything out? Do you have any tips on how to cope with an HOA? Do you have an HOA horror stories?
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