Before you buy a home in an HOA community, you should know how homeowners associations work and which rules will apply to your home. When you become a member of an HOA, you’ll be bound by certain agreements called HOA covenants. These covenants can differ from community to community, which is why you should spend some time reading through them. In doing so, you’ll learn how to avoid violating the HOA rules in your community.
HOA Covenants Defined
HOA covenants refer to the Declaration of Covenants, Conditions, & Restrictions in an HOA. These covenants provide a community with the rules that members and homeowners must abide by. Along with outlining the rights that homeowners have and the guidelines they must follow, HOA covenants also define how the HOA will act.
This declaration is considered a legal document, which means that anyone who becomes a member of an HOA will be expected to adhere to the rules contained within. The HOA is responsible for enforcing any rules listed in the CC&Rs. When an HOA is first started, its CC&Rs are filed directly with the state.
What HOA Covenants Involve
The purpose of an HOA is to regulate how a community acts in order to maintain or increase property values within that community. HOAs govern with the use of covenants that they enforce whenever a homeowner violates one or more of the rules.
Different covenants are centered around different things. For instance, property use covenants are designed to ensure a home maintains its current curb appeal. If a property’s curb appeal worsens, values will decline. Homeowners also have certain rights that are given by the covenants. For example, all homeowners in an HOA community have the right to quietly enjoy their property.
Common Examples of HOA Covenants
The restrictions that are stated in CC&Rs are meant to place limitations on how you can use your property. Since you’ll be a member of the HOA, you might also be tasked with performing certain actions to further the HOA guidelines. The most prevalent examples of HOA covenants include:
- Restrictions on pets – Depending on the HOA community you join, it’s possible that the CC&Rs place restrictions on certain breeds or types of pets. These restrictions could also apply to how many pets you can own.
- Changes to property – It’s commonplace for HOAs to limit the types of additions or alterations you can make to your property. Even if certain changes are allowed, you’ll likely need to ask for approval by your HOA board before completing the project.
- Exterior look of home – Most HOAs want the homes in the planned community to have a similar appearance to one another, which means that you may be unable to change the color of paint on your home’s exterior. More restrictive HOAs might even stop you from air drying your laundry.
- Property maintenance requirements – HOAs can differ substantially when it comes to property maintenance requirements. You may be required to mow your lawn and perform regular landscaping. It’s possible, however, that these services will be included as long as you pay your HOA dues.
- Vehicle limitations – There are times when an HOA will put restrictions on where vehicles can be parked and the types of vehicles you can have on your property.
HOA bylaws dictate how an HOA is managed. HOAs are viewed as nonprofit corporations in the U.S., which means that bylaws are necessary to determine how daily operations will be performed. These bylaws are enforceable and can include such provisions as:
- Meeting requirements
- Voting rights for members
- How long board members must serve
- Duties and responsibilities for board members
- Total number of board members
- Frequency of elections to the board
- Meeting requirements
- Frequency of meetings
- Election guidelines
Bylaws and CC&Rs are the two types of documents that govern an HOA. The main difference between the two is that bylaws mainly focus on how the HOA operates, while covenants determine how the HOA and homeowners can act.
While bylaws involve everything from voting rights to determining the number of meetings that must occur every year, covenants center around things like fee obligations and dispute resolution.
Identifying Property CC&Rs
HOAs are only officially recognized as having legal power once they submit their CC&Rs directly to the nearby county recorder’s office. If you’re in the market for a new home and decide to buy one in an HOA, you’ll likely be given a copy of the community’s CC&Rs alongside the HOA disclosure documents you receive. These documents should be given to you before you’ve closed the transaction.
If you currently live in one of these communities but want to brush up on the CC&Rs, you have several options at your disposal. HOAs are required by law to provide homeowners with these documents for free. Depending on the HOA, you may be able to obtain a digital copy on the HOA’s website. You could also make a request for a copy from the board. In this scenario, several forms will likely need to be filled out and submitted.
Making Changes to HOA CC&Rs
There are times when an HOA will make changes to covenants that are already in place. However, the process for doing so is oftentimes a lengthy one that takes numerous steps to complete. Before alterations can be made, a proposal for this amendment will be sent to the HOA board. This proposal includes every detail of what the change will entail.
It’s likely that a meeting will then be held, which provides board members with the opportunity to have further discussions on the changes before requesting feedback and opinions from homeowners. The final step typically involves holding a vote among every board member and homeowner in the community.
A majority of members must agree to the change for it to take place. While the exact percentages can vary, approval usually requires 66-75% of members to approve. If the amendment happens to pass, all changes must be documented at the county recorder’s office, after which every homeowner should receive an official notice of these changes.
Violations of Bylaws and CC&Rs
Since bylaws and CC&Rs are legal documents, homeowners must adhere to them. If you violate a CC&R, you could face different penalties. These penalties usually involve:
- Liens – If you haven’t made payments for several months, a lien could be placed on your home, which would effectively allow the HOA to obtain partial ownership of the structure.
- Foreclosure – After a lien is attached to a property, the HOA can begin foreclosure proceedings to obtain a payment.
- Fines – A single violation of HOA covenants usually comes with a hefty fine.
- Suspension – You may have some of your privileges taken away after violating a covenant, which could involve not having access to amenities that the entire community enjoys.
- Compliance – Depending on the type of violation, the HOA could enter your property to fix the issue.
In the event that an HOA doesn’t adhere to its own bylaws, homeowners have the opportunity to inform the board of this issue. It’s also possible for homeowners to request a special meeting to effectively remove one or more of the board members. In rare occurrences, homeowners have the ability to file a lawsuit to resolve the problem.
When CC&Rs Expire
Covenants will expire after an extended period of time, which can be around 25-30 years. Once this occurs, the HOA can reinstate all their previous rules with a majority vote. This process is referred to as covenant revitalization. If the vote goes through without issue, it will appear as though the covenants have always been in place. An HOA can choose not to renew their covenants as well. If the old covenants are now outdated, the community can move to put new CC&Rs and bylaws in place.
Once you understand the bylaws and covenants in your community, you’ll know what your rights are, how to avoid costly violations, and what it takes to introduce an amendment. The bottom line is that covenants dictate nearly everything about an HOA community. Read through the covenants and bylaws before you agree to buy a home in an HOA.