A homeowners’ association (HOA) is the organization in a planned community, subdivision, or condominium complex that maintains common areas through the creation of rules and regulations, which can help protect and improve property values. To subsidize these efforts, HOAs collect fees from homeowners that cover maintenance, landscaping, utilities, and other community expenses.
An HOA’s rights to regulate homeowners vary by state and can be difficult to understand. If you’re a member of an HOA and need help understanding rules or think the HOA is acting inappropriately, check out Rocket Lawyer. They offer document review services and attorneys who can answer your HOA questions. Click here for a free trial.
Who Is Subject to an HOA?
An HOA is created by a residential housing developer to uphold property values, maintain common areas, and provide other services to HOA members. If you purchase a home in one of these developments, HOA membership is mandatory and you must follow the HOA’s rules and regulations for as long as you own the property. For this reason, you should know whether a home is in an HOA before buying it and fully understand the restrictions once you live there.
To find out whether a house is subject to an HOA, search for the address on the county property assessor’s website to identify the name of the development; if you already own the property, check your deed. Then, conduct an online search for the neighborhood to see if the HOA has any of their documents posted online. If your property is subject to an HOA, you’ll have to pay a monthly fee in return for maintenance, amenities, and other services offered by the HOA.
How Homeowners’ Associations (HOAs) Work
An HOA is run by a board of directors that is elected by the community; there may also be specific committees dedicated to architecture and design, buildings and grounds, and finance. Each month, community members pay a specific amount in HOA fees to cover community benefits and services like common area maintenance, landscaping, and security. Homeowners’ association members are also subject to the HOA’s governing documents.
HOAs typically hold open monthly or quarterly meetings that give residents the opportunity to raise questions and concerns about the HOA or its board of directors. This is also a time for the board of directors to elect new officers, propose new or modified rules, and share updates about the status of the HOA’s operating and reserve funds, upcoming projects, and potential special assessments.
HOA Fees: Costs & Coverage
HOA fees, also known as assessments or dues, are monies collected from homeowners within the HOA that range from $200 to $300 per month on average. Generally, this includes costs related to operation of the HOA, maintenance of common areas, landscaping, insurance, security, and other overhead expenses shared by the owners.
HOA fees typically cover expenses such as:
- Landscaping: Some HOAs provide landscaping services to all of their residents as part of annual dues. More frequently, however, an HOA will include costs associated with landscaping common areas in annual dues.
- Insurance: This includes, but is not limited to, costs to insure common area structures as well as liability and negligence insurance to cover the HOA’s governing board.
- Maintenance of common areas: Maintenance of roads, clubhouses, pools, spas, and other common areas can be expensive. These costs are defrayed by all of the homeowners as part of HOA fees.
- Utilities to common areas: HOA fees often cover utilities for common areas, such as street lights, pools, and clubhouses.
- Trash and recycling pickup: If your neighborhood provides trash and recycling pickup, these expenses will often be included in annual HOA dues.
- Security: If a neighborhood has security cameras, a gate attendant, security guards, or other security features, the costs will be included in the HOA’s fees.
- Reserve requirements: Reserve requirements are monies collected for future repairs and maintenance, including roof repairs, painting, paving, and other general community upkeep costs.
Not all of the above services are covered by an HOA. If your HOA covers minimal services, the monthly or annual assessment will likely be lower. However, it should be noted that in addition to monthly or annual fees, HOAs may charge members additional assessments for community improvement projects.
Powers of an HOA
An HOA has the power to restrict member actions in many ways, including use and landscaping of their yard, when they may engage in noisy activity, how many pets they can own, and the color they can paint their home. HOAs can also collect dues and levy fines against homeowners who do not comply with the association’s governing documents. However, the power of HOAs is restricted by state and federal laws that aim to protect homeowner rights.
Things HOAs have the power to do include:
- Creating and enforcing rules: An HOA can create and enforce rules and regulations set forth in the HOA’s Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions (CC&Rs), Bylaws, and Rules & Regulations. However, when doing so, they must also follow the procedures set forth in those governing documents.
- Collecting assessments: An HOA has the power to collect the monthly or annual dues, maintenance assessments, special assessments, and other fees delineated in the CC&Rs, Rules & Regulations, and Bylaws.
- Levying fines: If an HOA member fails to pay dues or otherwise comply with the HOA’s governing documents, the HOA can levy fines against the homeowner. This must be done in accordance with the HOA’s governing documents.
- Claiming a lien on property: If an HOA member fails to pay dues or fines, the HOA can file a lien on the property owner’s home. Ultimately, the HOA’s board of directors can also initiate formal foreclosure hearings if the lien goes unpaid.
Powers not afforded to HOAs include, but are not limited to:
- Discriminating: Under the Fair Housing Act, HOAs cannot discriminate against homeowners on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, disability, familial status, or national origin.
- Levying fines unofficially: An HOA can only levy fines as set forth in the HOA’s governing documents. A board of directors cannot fine you for violating rules that are not included in the CC&Rs, Bylaws, or Rules & Regulations.
- Limiting use of satellite dishes: Even though some HOAs try to limit a homeowner’s right to have a satellite dish, this type of equipment is usually protected by the FCC’s Over the Air Reception Devices Rule, which only allows HOAs to enforce restrictions that do not hinder the installation, maintenance, or use of satellites included in the rule. HOAs may also impose restrictions needed for safety or historic preservation.
- Restricting types of landscaping (in some states): Some states, like California, Texas, and Florida, have laws that protect a homeowner’s right to plant native species in their yard even if they are not consistent with the landscaping requirements of the HOA.
In addition to these examples, states have statutes that dictate how homeowners’ associations can regulate homeowners. The laws governing HOAs vary by state, so check out this state-by-state guide to HOA laws to learn more about the rights of HOAs and homeowners in your state. If you think you have an HOA dispute, Rocket Lawyer can help you better understand your rights and responsibilities under relevant CC&Rs and Rules & Regulations.
Typical HOA Rules
An HOA’s Rules & Regulations document generally imposes standards like fee obligations, pet regulations, and guidelines for renting or leasing the property. Rules and regulations also protect property values in a community through maintenance standards, occupancy limits, parking regulations, and noise restrictions. We compiled some sample HOA rules and regulations to illustrate the restrictions imposed by many homeowners’ associations.
Typical HOA rules and regulations include:
HOAs typically charge dues or annual assessments to help defray expenses related to common area maintenance and operation of the HOA. Members may also be called on to pay special assessments or special purpose assessments to cover additional community expenses. CC&Rs don’t usually include assessment amounts, but generally detail the purpose of the assessments, how and when they may be increased, and assessment ceilings.
This example from the California Association of Homeowners’ Associations (CAHOA) suggests a cap on assessments of 5%:
“Special Assessments. As allowed by California law, and as reasonably required by need, the Board of Directors may for any fiscal year, impose special assessments which in the aggregate do not exceed five percent (5%) of the budgeted gross expenses for that fiscal year. For any special assessment that exceeds five percent (5%), the Board must obtain the approval of a majority of the members at a duly convened meeting where a quorum of fifty-one percent (51%) is present (or by written ballot where a quorum of 51% responds), except in an emergency situation as defined by Civil Code §1366 or an exception existing under Civil Code §1365 related to borrowing from reserves.”
To uphold property values, HOAs often set rules to protect properties from infringement and damage by pets. For example, many HOAs limit the types and number of animals allowed and dictate when and where they must be on a leash. Many CC&Rs also include language regarding pet owner liability.
This example from CAHOA echoes county and city pet ordinances:
“The county and city ordinances pertaining to dogs apply to this project. They provide, in part, that dogs must be kept on a leash or confined within the owner’s property. If any pets become a general nuisance, restrictive action will be taken. All animals shall be the exclusive responsibility of the owner of the home. The owner is responsible for clean up of animal’s waste products immediately. Dog owners are required to curb their pets. In case of an accident, dog excrement must be removed with scoops from sidewalks, driveways, and green areas. Damage to shrubbery, etc., by animals will be at the expense of the owner. Control should be exercised over the noise made by pets.”
Homeowners subject to an HOA must typically notify their HOA’s board before renting their home to a third party. There are general rules for how much notice the homeowner must provide and what information the homeowners must provide about the proposed renter. Homeowners are also frequently required to provide a copy of the Rules & Regulations to the renters so they follow HOA rules.
For example, CAHOA’s sample Rules & Regulations imposes a notice requirement:
“Any homeowner choosing to rent his home must notify the Board of Directors or management company within 10 days of the name(s) of the tenants, a description of their vehicle(s), and their phone number. Owners shall provide new occupants with a copy of association Rules & Regulations.”
Maintenance standards protect property values within a community by ensuring roads, homes, yards, and common areas are fully functioning and aesthetically pleasing. This can involve anything from requiring homeowners to maintain their curb appeal by mowing and watering their lawns to requiring residents to keep their windows clean or restricting the types of plants that may be grown in yards.
This example from CAHOA imposes several specific maintenance requirements:
“Pursuant to Section 3 of the CC&Rs, the homeowners are responsible for their respective lots and buildings (improvement). ‘Each owner of a lot shall be responsible for maintenance of his Lot and improvements thereto including the equipment and fixtures therein, the interior and exterior walls, the ceiling and roof, the windows and doors thereof, in a first class, clean, sanitary, workable, and attractive condition. Windows on the lots may be covered by shades, drapes, or shutters only and may not be painted or covered by foil, cardboard, or other similar materials. Each owner shall also be responsible for the repair, replacement, and cleaning of the windows and glass of his Lot, both exterior and interior. Each owner shall also be responsible for cleaning and maintaining any exclusive easements to his Lot over the common area, and shall maintain air conditioners for the use of individual Lots, if any, which lie wholly or partly within the common area.’”
An HOA may impose occupancy limits to avoid high traffic, parking shortages, or other congestion of common areas that might negatively impact a resident’s quiet enjoyment of their home. These restrictions may not discriminate against residents on the basis of race, religion, natural original, sex, ancestry, familial status, disability, age, or the presence of children in a home. Occupancy limits are typically determined based on the square footage of a home.
In the CAHOA sample Rules & Regulations, occupancy is limited as follows:
“The occupancy in each home is limited to one person per each 300 feet of living space. Restrictions outlined in the Uniform Building Code (VBC) chapter 3324-table 33a, state the ‘minimum egress and access requirements’ per-home occupancy shall not exceed one person (child or adult) per 300 feet of living space in apartments, dwellings, etc. Enforcement will be performed by public health department and the building department.
“The homeowner shall be responsible for keeping the management company informed of any change in occupancy. Owners shall provide the management company with the names of all authorized occupants, their telephone numbers, and the license numbers, make, and color of authorized vehicles.”
Vehicle & Parking Regulations
HOAs restrict where residents can park to protect curb appeal and limit wear and tear on common areas. Parking restrictions are also used to keep roads clear for regular traffic and emergency vehicles, and to prevent blocked driveways and other forms of road misuse. This section of the Rules & Regulations may also set a neighborhood-wide speed limit and restrict the types of vehicles allowed in a community, including RVs and commercial vehicles.
Vehicle and parking may be limited by day and time, as it is in this CAHOA example:
“This section includes what vehicles are permitted, what may be done with them, speed regulations, and parking regulations.
1. Residents are to park their cars in their garages. The common area parking locations are for the use of guests and visitors any time, day or night. Residents are allowed to use the common parking area only between 5:00 p.m. to 10:00 a.m. Monday through Friday; and on Saturday and Sundays between the hours from 5:00 p.m. to 12:00 noon.
2. Parking signs are to be strictly adhered to at all times. Fire lanes are painted red and no parking is allowed at any time. Violators will be subject to automatic tow-away.
3. All thoroughfares are considered fire and emergency access roads. Parking on common areas other than in parking stalls is prohibited.
4. Parking in front of garages or on sidewalks is prohibited unless the vehicle is attended by a licensed operator while a) loading or unloading or b) washing and/or waxing.
5. Double-parking is prohibited at all times.
6. All vehicles must park within designated lines in parking stalls.”
Houses in quiet, peaceful neighborhoods typically command higher property values than those on loud streets. To ensure residents’ quiet enjoyment of their homes and protect property values, HOAs frequently impose noise restrictions. This includes prohibiting noisy activities or limiting them to certain hours of the day. Many HOAs also impose quiet hours to keep the neighborhood quiet during certain times of the day, like early morning or late at night.
In this example from the CAHOA, residents must use reasonable care when making noise:
“Owners and occupants shall exercise reasonable care to avoid making or permitting to be made loud, disturbing, or objectionable noises and in using, playing, or permitting to be used or played musical instruments, radios, phonographs, televisions, amplifiers, and any other instruments or devices in such manners as may unreasonably disturb owners, tenants, or occupants of other homes.
“Homeowners are urged to exercise restraint in using noise—using tools and appliances during late night hours or before 8:00 a.m. on weekdays and 9:00 a.m. on weekends.
“Barking dogs shall be controlled by the animal’s owner. Complaints received by the Board of Directors regarding a barking dog could result in removal of the dog at owners’ expense.
“All noise must be kept to a minimum throughout the complex pursuant to CC&Rs.”
Standard HOA Governing Documents
HOAs are typically regulated by three documents: Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions (CC&Rs); Bylaws; and Rules & Regulations. CC&Rs are recorded and filed with the state and typically include legal issues like property use restrictions. Bylaws, in contrast, describe how the HOA is operated. Finally, Rules & Regulations cover specific community rules that can change based on member needs.
HOAs operate and restrict resident behavior using the following documents:
Covenants, Conditions & Restrictions (CC&Rs)
CC&Rs are the legal restrictions in your community that are recorded with the state. Collectively, they form a legally binding document that covers legal matters like property use restrictions, assessments, rule enforcement and dispute resolution procedures, and minimum insurance obligations. CC&Rs can only be changed by a majority vote of HOA membership, so they’re reserved for more general regulations that won’t change frequently.
A homeowners’ association’s bylaws establish the structure of the HOA and dictate the day-to-day governance of the association. Bylaws typically include sections like HOA board nomination and election procedures, service terms and limits, meeting frequency and quorum requirements, and board member responsibilities. As with the CC&Rs, an HOA’s bylaws can only be changed by a vote of the membership.
Rules & Regulations
An HOA’s Rules & Regulations document is somewhat of a catch-all for community rules. The rules and regulations can generally be changed by a vote of the board rather than the full membership, so the document includes rules that are more likely to change or that may vary seasonally. There may be some overlap between the CC&Rs and the Rules & Regulations, with the latter supplementing the CC&Rs.
As a member of an HOA, you can access relevant governing documents before or after you purchase your home. If you’re renting a home subject to an HOA, your landlord should review the Rules & Regulations with you prior to signing the lease. As an HOA member, you can also submit comments and concerns to the board of directors. Check the CC&Rs to make sure you’re following the necessary procedure when challenging a rule or action by the HOA.
Pros & Cons of an HOA
Homeowners’ associations can be extremely helpful because they serve to protect property values and provide a range of services to community residents. HOAs also set and enforce community rules that ensure the neighborhood is safe and appealing to residents and visitors. However, HOAs can be too restrictive, dues can be expensive depending on community amenities, and the governing structure can be inefficient and lead to slow decision-making.
Pros of an HOA
Pros of being an HOA member include:
- Protection of property values: HOAs protect and improve property values by ensuring individual lots and common areas are well maintained. An HOA can also impose restrictions on noise, property use, and other factors that impact property values.
- Services, amenities, and facilities: Many HOAs offer members access to common areas, services like trash and recycling pickup, and facilities like pools and clubhouses.
- Rules for renters: If your home is subject to an HOA and you choose to rent the property, the HOA’s Rules & Regulations provide an easy-to-follow framework for renters. This makes it easier to enforce renter rules and provides accountability when rules are broken.
Cons of an HOA
Cons of being an HOA member include:
- Fees, dues, and assessments: HOAs require members to pay annual fees and other assessments to cover operation and maintenance of common areas. Averaging between $200 and $300 per month, these fees can become expensive, especially with the addition of assessments for special projects.
- Restrictive rules: The ability of HOAs to regulate noise, parking, yard maintenance, and home style can be extremely restrictive.
- Inefficient processes: The rules and regulations of an HOA are created and enforced by its board of directors. Changes to the rules and actions by the HOA must be approved by a vote of the board or, sometimes, all of the members, making HOAs inefficient and slow-moving.
- Potential for poor management: An HOA’s board of directors is made up of members of the community and it can be difficult to identify qualified residents who are also willing to serve on the board. For this reason, HOAs have the potential for poor management.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Can a homeowners’ association evict you from your home?
A homeowners’ association cannot evict you from your home without following the legal process of eviction. If you fail to pay dues or otherwise break the rules of your HOA, you may get fined. Failure to pay fines can result in the HOA putting a lien on your house and subsequently foreclosing on an unpaid lien. This can be a lengthy process that requires the HOA to initiate formal foreclosure proceedings.
Can the homeowners’ association take your house?
As with eviction, a homeowners’ association can only take your house if you fail to meet the financial obligations imposed by the HOA. This can occur if the HOA files a lien on your property for unpaid fees or fines and you fail to pay off the debt. Before taking your house, the HOA will have to initiate foreclosure proceedings.
Can you sue a homeowners’ association?
You can sue an HOA if its board of directors violates the duties set forth in the HOA’s governing documents. CC&Rs serve as a contract between the HOA and its members, so the dereliction of the board of directors’ duties can be grounds for a lawsuit. It may be appropriate to sue your HOA in cases of harassment or discrimination by the HOA, failure to complete necessary repairs, misappropriation of dues, and other contract violations.
Homeowners’ associations protect and improve property values in subdivisions and other communities through enforcement of extensive rules and regulations. To do so, HOAs collect annual membership dues to maintain and improve common areas and community amenities and to pay for operation of the board of directors.
If you own property that’s covered by an HOA or are considering buying a home that’s in a restricted community, it’s important to understand the HOA’s governing documents. Rocket Lawyer’s team of professionals can help you understand your HOA’s rules and regulations with their document review and “Ask a Lawyer” services. Click here for a free trial.