Guide to Understanding HOA Regulations - article banner

According to recent research, over 70 million people across the U.S. live in a homeowner’s association. They’ve grown in popularity, especially as new construction neighborhoods begin showing up in communities all over the country.

There’s often a struggle between the HOA and homeowners, especially when it comes to rules and regulations. In today’s blog, we want to talk about why these HOA regulations are in place and how they actually protect your property and your property value.

The Purpose of Your HOA

One of the main reasons your HOA is necessary is that you’re living with others in a community, and you don’t want the behavior of others to impact what your home is worth. Your HOA implements rules and regulations to maintain property values.

The rules enacted by the governing body keep the properties within your community looking pristine and somewhat uniform. This ensures your property values are intact and hopefully rising.

Your HOA also provides protection. If there’s any commonly owned property within the neighborhood, even something as small as a parcel of ground where a sign is posted or a retention basin or a clubhouse and swimming pool, you need an HOA to maintain the area and have it insured. If there was no HOA, every owner in that community would be liable if something happened and there was a lawsuit.

Buying in an HOA Community: What Boston Homeowners Need to Know

A common interest community is also known as a condominium association, a co-op, or an HOA. When you begin your home search, you will probably come across properties in an HOA or a similar association. When you’re deciding whether or not to buy a home in a planned community, there are several things to consider:

  1. Joining the association is mandatory. You don’t have a choice when it comes to membership in the HOA. If you’re buying a home in the community governed by an HOA, you must become a member. This includes paying the dues and following the regulations
  2. The home is yours, but the community is shared.
  3. You may need to tame your temperament. If you don’t like to be told what to do, you may think you won’t enjoy living in an HOA community. Some homeowners find it frustrating. But, if you like living in a clean, safe neighborhood where everything is orderly and attractive, community living might appeal to you. Conflicts and disputes are often managed by the HOA. Many owners appreciate that support.
  4. There will be association fees. It’s important that you understand the HOA fee structure. They are charged annually, quarterly, or monthly. Find out the history of the fees, how often they have been increased over the years, and what they cover. You’ll want to know how special assessments work and what they pay for. These costs will impact you financially. Some fees are just $100 a year and others are thousands of dollars a year.

Before you buy, ask to see a copy of past minutes from previous board meetings. This will provide insight into how the board handles maintenance, and what kinds of projects have been completed and are coming up. Find out if there are delinquencies to be concerned about. Many HOAs and condo associations are facing bankruptcy because so many of their residents are delinquent. Make sure your community has a solid reserve fund and not too many delinquent accounts.

Certain things will tell you if the community is over-managed or under-managed. If the rules aren’t enforced, you aren’t getting enough oversight and management. On the flip side, you may have a zealous board that delivers violations if a blade of grass is out of place. That’s an example of over-management. A good HOA will work with professional Boston property managers who specialize in HOA management.

Compliance with Association Rules and Regulations

The rules and regulations span many different areas. Every HOA will be unique in what is allowed and what isn’t allowed, however there are always going to be common regulations that cover things like lawns, gardens, fencing, and pets.

These are important things to think about because the rules are non-negotiable. Ask for a copy of the Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions (CC&Rs) before you buy. You’ll also want to see a copy of the bylaws and the master documents.

Some of the regulations you can expect will include:

  • Noise and Nuisances

The HOA can also regulate things like noise. Loud parties or disruptive music can result in a violation. Behavior at communal amenities such as fitness centers and swimming pools is also regulated. There may be opening and closing hours that need to be respected, dress codes, and a code of conduct.

It’s important to get to know the expectations and requirements before moving into an HOA community.

  • Landscaping and Home Exteriors on your Boston Property

One of the most common regulations you’ll find within any HOA is what type of paint and trim can be used on the exterior of a house. Some HOAs will have a list of paint colors that are acceptable. Some will require that you submit your preferences for approval before you paint the outside of your home.

They can also regulate landscaping. For example, some HOAs won’t allow residents to have private vegetable gardens. Others will watch the growth of weeds and grass and cite you for allowing the grass to get too long or the flower beds too overgrown. They can regulate shrubs and hedges and tell you whether or not a fence is permitted and if so, what kind of fence you can put up.

  • Structures and Outdoor Buildings

If you’re planning to put a shed in your backyard, check with your HOA first. They can regulate sheds, detached garages, and other structures. Either they will be allowed, restricted, or denied. Your HOA can dictate how large the shed is, what color it is painted, and where on your property it can be placed. They can also regulate mailboxes and swing sets as well as holiday decorations and political yard signs.

  • Limits on Pets and Children in Boston HOAs

The HOA can determine whether pets are allowed, so make sure you check a community’s pet policy before you buy a home. Sometimes, all animals are allowed. Other times, the animals must be a certain size or age. Sometimes, there are breed restrictions because some dogs are considered dangerous. You might need to provide proof of extra liability insurance if you move in with dogs.

If you’re buying a property in a 55+ community, you may not be allowed to have children in the home. Each association has different rules, but some age-restricted communities require that all residents are 55 or older and others require at least one resident to be 55 years of age.

Boston HOA Enforcement

Whether you’re the party who has violated a regulation or you’re frustrated by neighbors who continue to violate the rules, there will be a process in place for how the regulations are enforced.

For many HOAs, rule enforcement starts with a warning. When a homeowner is found to be in violation of a rule, a written warning can be issued that explains the violation and the consequences that will come next if the issue is not resolved. Sometimes, your homeowners don’t realize they’re breaking a rule, and in these cases, the homeowner will correct the problem right away.

Next, there’s likely to be a fine. Fines are the most common way that HOAs will enforce their rules. Garbage cans that are left outside on the street, for example, might incur a $50 fine. Pet waste that isn’t cleaned up may cost a homeowner $100. Make sure you understand how and when your association can penalize homeowners.

Your association may have a fee structure that varies when there are repeat or habitual violators of the rules and regulations.

Check your association’s governing documents to determine what other penalties may be authorized to bring a homeowner into compliance. Your board may be authorized to suspend your voting rights until the violation has been cured. If you’re behind on your HOA dues, you may lose access to the pool or other communal areas until you are up to date.

Legal action is typically rare, but it may be required for an association to enforce rules and regulations when no other penalty seems to work. Courts are always going to want to keep these cases out of the courtroom, and you may find yourself in mediation or arbitration. No one enjoys spending time and resources going to court, so HOAs and homeowners should avoid litigation whenever possible.

If you’re not sure about the rules and regulations in your HOA or in an HOA where you plan to buy, talk to your agent. It’s absolutely critical to be clear before you invest. If you’re planning to rent out a home, for example, and you don’t realize that there’s a waiting period on rentals or restrictions on how long you can lease your property, you may lose a lot of money.

HOA communitiesWe manage properties and HOA communities, and our knowledge runs pretty deep. If you have any questions about Boston property management or HOA management in Boston, please don’t hesitate to contact us at Platinum Realty Group.