Homeowners associations are created to uphold and enrich property values. An HOA is usually established by the property developer, and lead by a board of directors.
When someone purchases property within the HOA, they automatically become a member of the association. All members are expected to follow the rules and regulations created by their HOA, even if they don’t agree with every policy.
Table of contents
- Why do HOAs have rules and regulations?
- How are rules different than bylaws or CC&Rs?
- What should be included in the rules and regulations?
- Can the rules be changed?
- Can police enforce HOA rules?
- Unwritten rules
The trade-off is that the HOA looks after many of the maintenance tasks that are associated with home-ownership, and members get to enjoy shared amenities such as pools, volleyball or basketball courts, and clubhouses, that they could not afford to purchase on their own.
Why do HOAs have rules and regulations?
Property developers are usually responsible for starting an HOA, but once a certain number or percentage of the units in a particular development have been sold, the developer relinquishes control of the HOA and gives authority to the homeowners. From here, the HOA board may keep the existing rules, or establish their own.
Almost any member of the association can represent their community as a board member. Board members are volunteers, meaning they do not get paid for their work. Some members may work full time and lead very busy lives. As such, they need a system to help them maintain and enrich the community. HOA rules help them accomplish that objective.
How are rules and regulations different than bylaws or CC&Rs?
Think of rules and regulations as a “catch-all” for things that aren’t covered by bylaws or covenants, conditions, and restrictions (CC&Rs). CC&Rs and bylaws take precedence, but rules and regulations help to fill in any gaps.
CC&Rs cover the rights and obligations of HOA members. CC&Rs are legally binding. The document is recorded and filed with the HOA’s state. The following items may be covered in your CC&R:
- Property-use restrictions
- Maintenance obligations for the HOA, and for members
- Mechanisms for rule enforcement and dispute resolution
- Lender protection provisions
- Assessment obligations
- Insurance obligations
Because this record is kept on file with the state, it can be hard to amend. Changes require a vote by the membership.
Bylaws address the structure of the day-to-day governance of an HOA. They cover things like:
- How often HOA board elections take place
- How new board members are nominated and elected
- How long service terms last
- Duties and responsibilities of board members
- Meeting frequency and quorum requirements
Like CC&Rs, bylaws cannot easily be changed, as they also require a vote by the membership to amend.
Conversely, rules and regulations can be changed with relative ease. These policies are meant to be more flexible and can be adjusted as new issues or needs within the HOA arise. For example, an HOA might have a rule that restricts owners from having a dog of a certain weight or size. But that rule might be too restrictive and can be adjusted if many owners express a desire to own a big dog.
Rules can be changed by an HOA board vote, however, the change must be reviewed by the members of the community. Traditionally, a board will adopt a rule and then send a notice to the community members who will have 30 days to review it. After that time, the board will review feedback from the members and make a final decision.
What should be included in the rules and regulations?
Different HOAs will require different rules to meet the needs of their community, but this list should provide an idea of what needs to be included:
Policies for collecting late association dues and assessments
Every community should have a collection policy so that all members understand what will happen if they do not pay on time. Board members will also have a guide available to help them follow through with their obligations to enforce the rules without having to worry about crossing any lines.
Rules for transferring ownership of a property
Ask for a written notice from a member who intends to sell their property. Make it clear that the owner selling the unit must notify the HOA of any transactions related to their home, and the buyer about the HOA as well.
Rental guidelines make it clear that renters are obligated to adhere to established community rules, just like everyone else. Homeowners must inform the HOA when a new renter comes in, and if the renter does not follow the rules, it’s often the homeowner that gets penalized.
Inspection of records
In many states, associations are required by statute to make their books available to members. However, the association can set reasonable limitations on that access if a policy exists. Sometimes, board members use personal e-mail accounts to discuss things. An owner may ask to see all those communications, and if there’s no policy in place, it’s an open question as to whether those e-mails are HOA records.
It doesn’t happen often, but there is a potential for abuse of personal/financial information by board members since the association may have cheques from members. Most governing documents don’t say much about how the board will deal with the private information of its members which is why it is smart to create a policy detailing how an association deals with that information. This way, homeowners and third parties know how that information will and will not be used.
Common area rules
These include what times common areas can be used, how to behave when sharing these spaces with others, and how many people can be in the area at one time.
These include core issues such as what can and cannot be done to the exterior of a home, how to dispose of garbage, noise restrictions, and picking up after a pet.
Can the rules be changed?
HOA rules are established to enrich the community, but there are times where it may feel like there are too many restrictive rules in place. For example, a homeowner may only be able to paint their front door a certain color, or they may not be able to park a car in front of their house overnight.
Homeowners can challenge HOA rules, but they should never stop paying dues as a form of protest. Having a solid record will work in a member’s favor if they decide to contest a particular rule, and homeowners who fail to pay HOA dues and respond to board letters can be taken to court or dealt with significant fines. If penalties aren’t paid, an HOA may even act by placing a lien on the non-complying owner’s home.
Members are encouraged to attend board meetings so that they can learn the thinking behind proposed rule changes, and challenge any changes before they are adopted. They can also contact their board to talk about the rule.
Members can submit a formal request to the HOA board and property management company, if applicable. A compromise may be possible. If the HOA takes longer than six months to address a request, then the member should resubmit the variance request and ask for a hearing. If the vote goes against the request, members are within their rights to pursue the matter further.
Can police enforce HOA rules?
The rules of an HOA are legally binding for association members, but they generally aren’t enforceable by the police. Violations of HOA guidelines are considered a civil matter between the HOA and non-complying members. The exception to this is if HOA’s rules overlap with other laws. These laws could include parking violations or noise restrictions that are also addressed in HOA rules.
Avoid relying on unwritten rules
Just because an association has always done something a certain way does not mean it’s a rule. Members should be careful to avoid relying on unwritten rules to ensure the well-being of the community. If a policy hasn’t been adopted, it doesn’t exist, which means members do not have to follow it. Unwritten rules can be challenged, and the board can lose.
To resolve this issue, associations must first determine if they have the authority to enact the rule. If they do, they must formally adopt it, just like they would adopt any other rule.
HOA rules and regulations are intended to work in unison with bylaws and CC&Rs. They are designed to maintain the value and well-being of the association, but they should not be used to restrict members’ enjoyment of their community.
Rules should be followed by members, but they are not set in stone. They can be changed as the community’s needs evolve.
If you’re thinking of moving into a planned development community, it’s important for you to be aware of all laws, bylaws, and rules that regulate the HOA before you move in. That way, you know what will be expected of you before you commit to buying a property.
Download our free HOA rules and regulations template