Wednesday, January 30, 2008

HOA - Whoa!

What the heck is an HOA?

It is an abbreviation for Home Owner’s Assocation, which Wikipedia defines as “the legal entity created by a real estate developer for the purpose of developing, managing and selling a community of homes.”

But what is it, really?

I’ve never lived in a place where I was under the auspices of an HOA, so I cannot speak with direct experience. I can only relate what I have learned through experience, both good and bad, on behalf of my clients over the years.

On the good side…

An HOA can protect the value of your property by establishing and maintaining a uniform set of property conditions for your neighborhood. That’s good, in case you get a neighbor who does something with their property which reduces the value of the surrounding properties. For example, if your neighbor wanted to put up a really tall antenna for their amateur radio operations, many HOAs would preclude that. Who wants to look out their back window and see a tall tower, and the associated guide wires to keep it standing straight?

And, many HOAs have terms in them which would make it difficult to run a home-based business when you have many visitors each day. Who wants a “commercial” operation right next door in their own neighborhood? This doesn’t mean you cannot have a home-based business, only that you have to be careful about the volume of traffic it will generate at your home.

On the bad side…

An HOA can sometimes prevent you from doing something which is otherwise good. For example, many HOAs preclude the use of clotheslines or clothespoles in your back yard. Given the concern over energy usage these days, the ability to save some electricity by hanging your washed clothes out to dry makes sense. It’s good for the environment, and it leaves your clothes with a great “fresh” smell! So, why not allow it?

Many HOAs also have terms in them which prevent the use of fences in your yard, (unless required by governmental ordinances, such as around a built-in pool). When it comes to pets, the only option seems to be with the “electronic” fences, which many pet owners see as cruel to their pets. In such a case, a small fenced-in dog run may be a good option, but how to bring it about?

How do you change things?

In many cases, an HOA is run by a board of directors made up of your neighbors. Most HOAs have terms in them which define how changes can be made to the rules and regulations. With sufficient “yea” votes from your neighbors, you can bring about a change in the rules.

If you’re ever in question about your HOA, I’m happy to help understand a situation. I’m not an attorney, so I cannot give legal advice. If it involves any legal interpretation, I would be happy to refer you to a local real estate attorney for advice.

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