Home Owners Associations –Friend or Foe

Category: Active adult communities

Home Owner Associations (HOAs), also called Community Associations or Condominium Associations, have a major image problem. Many people have an instantly negative reaction toward these organizations – usually because they hate the idea of rules or any organization telling them what they can and cannot do in their own homes. People who already live in a community with such an association, however, probably tend to have a neutral opinion of their HOA, with some having a very positive opinion of these association.

So, are Home Owner Associations Friend – or Foe? One thing is certain, Home Owner Associations exist by the thousands across the country – in active adult, 55+ communities , condominium buildings, and most planned developments. They provide order to daily life in these developments, and they have no shortage of issues to deal with. All you have to do to get an idea of the scope of the problem is to visit a popular website like the Community Associations Network. Go to their site and you will see where the rubber meets the road; problems hoping for solutions.

Consider this list of association problems, which typically occur wherever groups of people live together in close proximity while sharing common property and resources:

* Pets (barking, defecating, biting, roaming, etc)
* Children (in 55+ age restricted communities)
* Noise
* Decorations (flags, plants, paint, structures, fences, holiday, etc.)
* Guests (who can stay and for how long, and what facilities can they use)
* Parking (where and what types of vehicles and for how long)
* Use of common facilities (hours, costs, condition, etc)
* Dress code
* Maintenance
* Construction projects
* Non payment of dues
* Speeding

An HOA that is a friend helps to prevent and mitigate these situations, through wise and forward-thinking leadership. An effective HOA presides as the authority that sets rules and enforces infractions. Without anyone in this role anarchy, lawsuits, and enmity await.

On the Foe Side
On the foe side of the equation, there is no shortage of ways an HOA can be more of a hindrance than a help. HOA boards made up of opinionated, uninformed, and lazy members can be and are often a disaster.

Here are some of the problems ineffective boards create and foster:

* Rules that are established without the support of the residents
* Ineffective or arbitrary rule enforcement
* Failure to study long term infrastructure needs and set aside funds to pay for them
* Frequent assessments that could have been avoided with planning
* Undertaking ill-advised construction and renovation projects
* Inadequate financial and management oversight
* Poor maintenance practices
* Discrimination or favoritism
* And perhaps the most common problem of all – poor communication with association members

We see posts from many baby boomers who already think have the answer – HOAs are the foe. Fortunately, these folks usually self-select, they avoid active adult communities or condominiums, or they choose a community like Lake Weir Living that does not have an association. Other people tolerate HOAs; they know they are necessary but don’t necessarily have to like them.

Bottom Line
Our opinion is that HOAs are necessary in today’s shared communities. The good ones do a wonderful job of communicating with fellow residents, setting up and enforcing reasonable rules, and planning for the future. They make the pleasant enjoyment of everyday life possible by their effective management. Qualified home owners volunteer to take their turn on the board, while other residents are informed about the issues and give helpful feedback. Ineffective HOA’s can not only permit the destruction of one’s quiet enjoyment of their property, but they can cause real personal and financial harm. They can have capricious rules that engender lawsuits, unplanned for expenses and assessments, and who harass the residents with silly rules. If there is no association at all, owners face 2 possible authorities: the developer, or anarchy. All too often developers are too self-interested to perform the function well. And if no one is charge, the person with the biggest mouth will take over – kind of like an old western town with no sheriff. The most important piece of advice we have heard about HOAs comes from Joseph West of the Community Associations Network, who advises that before you move into a community, you check out the Home Owners Association. If you don’t like what you see, walk away, no matter how nice the unit seems.

What is Your Opinion?
Please share your opinion in the Comments section below.

For Further Reference
Meet the New Boss – Your HOA
How to Get Ready for Your New HOA
What You Need to Know When Your Developer Turns the Community over to the HOA
HOA Rules and Regulations – Friend or Foe

Posted by Admin on October 21st, 2010

8 Comments »

  1. Our opinion is that HOAs are necessary as an extra–legal force in today’s communities.

    Is this your opinion because you believe that people who buy into these communities need extra-legal force applied to them? If so, what is the difference between these people and the people across the street that live peacefully without an HOA?

    In the printed list of typical association problems that you present, only two issues, use of common facilities and non payment of dues, actually qualify as association specific problems. The other items, likes pets, speeding, maintenance, noise, etc., are also common issues found in non-hoa urban and suburban neighborhoods where the density of houses is higher than in a rural neighborhood. Yet, even in neighborhoods where community spirit is lacking, there seems to be a higher tolerance for these ‘problems’ than among occupants in an HOA. Maybe it’s because there isn’t a convenient Board of Directors willing to take any and all anonymous complaints about a neighbor, which relieves the complainer from any need to develop a tolerant attitude.

    In neighborhoods with a strong community spirit, not only is tolerance high but the attitudes reflect a “how is my neighbor doing” versus a “what is my neighbor doing” position. Heavy duty rules that seek to manage behavior rather than property are sure fire killers of this kind of community spirit and neighborly tolerance.

    You are not doing anyone any favors by perpetuating these inaccurate refrains that have no truth attached to them and owe their existence to one organization of property managers and attorneys that have successfully lobbied legislatures to embed them within the law. Follow that money and only then will these issues make sense.

    by Carole — October 22, 2010

  2. Carole, you make some great points. Although we don’t agree on some, there is nothing truer than that consideration, cooperation, and communication with your neighbors person-to-person is the best way to get along! Based on your comments I revised the opening line of the last section. Force is too strong a word. I just think they are necessary managers. For a very thoughtful and balanced discussion of these issues I recommend this article about HOAs in Examiner.com, Palm Beach. Thanks for your helpful comments.

    by John Brady — October 22, 2010

  3. A good HOA will help you with exterior maintenance, making repairs where the developer failed and do some yardwork and snow cleanup. Some even provide condo association insurance and water and trash pickup. A bad HOA will nitpick about little things like did you forget to bring your trash can in last night, is your TV satellite dish visible from the commons (BTW, the FCC has ruled that this regulation infringes on the homeowner’s right to get TV reception), and myriad things that really make no difference to the community as a whole. I want to live again in a condo community because I want to not deal with exterior maintenance.

    by Michelle — October 23, 2010

  4. Personally I couldn’t deal with a HOA having lived on a country spread for the past 15 years. I did my stint of communal living in the US Army and didn’t much like it at all. Add to that all the horror stories I have heard from relatives and the types of busy bodies who tend to gravitate towards these positions to further their own interests, no thanks. We will take care of our own little world and not have to answer to to others whims.
    This sort of lifestyle is fine for city folks but not so much for us country types.

    by Driz — October 23, 2010

  5. Thanks for the informative view. The suggestion to investigate the HOA before purchase is good advice. For those who would resist the option to have rules applied to them for close living, well, the association residents would be better off without them in their community. If the mere existence of a well established HOA screens out potential nonconformists who may not fit in the community it’s a sign the HOA is working.

    by John — October 23, 2010

  6. @John Brady

    Thank you for your comment and revision, John. Is it obvious that I’m somewhat passionate on this subject?

    At your suggestion, I read the Examiner’s column, HOA rules and regulations: foe?(no, it isn’t that bad!) Ironically, I was born and raised in West Palm Beach and grew up reading the local accounts of ‘condo commandos’ in action.

    However, there is another point in your article that deserves more attention. When discussing leadership in HOAs, it should be stated that the CC&Rs and state laws give virtually unlimited authority to either kind of Board leadership, good or bad. Good leadership will solve issues without abusing the considerable power that is available to them. But what happens when bad leadership is in control?

    All HOAs are only one election away from disaster. When Board members with agendas or personality disorders are elected, a well-run community with reasonable rules can become a legal and economic nightmare for its residents. Sadly, there are very few protections for homeowners in place that will protect them against abusive Boards.

    So, while Joseph West’s advice is practical, it does not take into account how easily rules can legally change once an abusive Board is in place. Neither does it take into account the costs and time frames that are involved in trying to replace an abusive Board with a good one. The abusive Board will have the HOA attorney at their disposal, with no personal cost to themselves, while the homeowners will not only have to pay for the HOA attorney through their fees, but also hire a lawyer at their own expense. Years later, the homeowners may win their case, but at a huge cost to their finances and health.

    In this article, SmartMoney.com estimated that 75% of California HOAs and 60% of Illinois HOAs are involved in litigation. Such high numbers clearly indicate that the problems involved with HOAs go beyond ‘a few dissident owners’.

    by Carole — October 24, 2010

  7. Six Observations regarding H- and C- OA’s
    1. This forum is in Top Retirements: the readers and responders will be older than most involved with community associations. “Older” often involves different expectations regarding children, motorcycles, pets, security, maintenance, on-site health care and entertainment, etc. Specifically, less of the first trio, and more of the second.
    The article cites Lake Weir as an example of a gated community without an association, but Lake Weir specifically addresses itself to families in their 20’s and 30’s: “Whether you’re a young family with children, a couple seeking an active lifestyle, or looking for your first home, Lake Weir Living is home”
    (http://www.lakeweirliving.com/) Lake Weir’s motto is “Live where you ride”; its logo, a well-muscled young man and a blonde lady – no helmets – on a red motorcycle.
    I suspect that, for retirees, Lake Weir, and, by extension, many gated communities without a(n) H/COA would not be attractive.
    2. Nothing forces a community to have an association; nothing forces a buyer to purchase a domicile in a community with an association. But, at any closing, should an association exist, the buyer must sign documents stating that he has read, and will follow, H/COA covenants. What does “follow” mean? Read on, if you will.
    3. H/COA covenants are like any other consensual government’s laws: created by the majority of the actual VOTERS, not by the majority of the Inhabitants. If an owner doesn’t like a covenant (which he has agreed to at signing), his recourse is to change the covenant, not to break it. For example, in the first case (Jeffrey DeMarco vs. Rancho Santa Fe) cited in the Smart Money link listed by a respondent above, Mr. DeMarco first broke two covenants (regrading and planting), refused to remove the plantings, refused to pay any fines, went to court, and lost his house. Or rather, his arrogance lost him his house: his actions stated “Rancho Santa Fe’s covenants, that I agreed to at closing, are not for me. I’m not gonna ask, I’m not gonna bother running for H/COA office, or start a petition. I’m just gonna do what I want.” Imagine if Mr. DeMarco’s solipsistic attitude were in effect at traffic signals: “Well, I didn’t see anyone coming, so I ignored the red light.”
    4. Approach H/COA boards as you would any representative group of homo sapiens: accommodation, not attack. Honey, not vinegar. If you still are not satisfied, begin the long, arduous, and not-warranted process known as “campaigning for office”.
    5. H/COA’s are, like the government of the USA, representative democracies: messy, inefficient, flawed, and demanding. But, as Winston Churchill said, ” democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.”
    6. H/COA’s are not omnipotent: they are subservient to state and federal laws. Here in Florida, for example, no association may ban “the use of solar collectors (including clotheslines) or “other energy devices based on renewable resources”. Interestingly, an association may “without approval of the unit owners, install solar collectors (including clotheslines) or other energy-efficient devices on association property for the benefit of the unit owners.” Perhaps because Florida is a retiree (= H/COA) haven, the state has many statues addressing the problems mentioned above, or in the SmartMoney.co article entitled “10 Things a Homeowners Association Won’t Tell You”. To see a resume of these laws, go to http://www.ehow.com/list_7229297_hoa-laws-florida.html

    by oldnassau — October 25, 2010

  8. […] Further Reference Home Owners Associations – Friend or Foe Meet the New Boss – Your HOA How to Get Ready for Your New HOA What You Need to Know When […]

    by » The Huffington Post’s New Devil – Home Owner Associations Topretirements — July 19, 2011

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