It’s My Land: A homeowners’ guide to HOAs

Would you believe that you can get your house foreclosed on for having a fence that is 4 foot 1 instead of an even 4? It happened. How about that swing-set you just installed for your kids? It’s just another liability. With all the regulations that your own property is subject to, you might think this is communist China. No, it’s just life in a home owner’s association (HOA).

In 2011, 62.3 million Americans lived in some sort of association-governed community. Of them, 50%-53% live in houses governed by HOAs. HOAs are either non-profit corporations or unincorporated associations. The board of directors is elected from volunteers. HOAs are governed by state and local laws, but in general they are given great leeway to set their own bylaws.

It is important to know that under Georgia law, any common expense benefiting less than all of the homes shall be paid for only by the homes affected by the improvement. However, the board of directors will determine how a project is paid for and in what proportion, if it is determined that one party benefits more than another in a common expense.

As soon as you purchase a home under the jurisdiction of an HOA, you are governed by its bylaws. There is no opt-in option. It is important to read the declaration of covenants, conditions and restrictions, which will include everything from what color you can paint your house to what pets you are allowed to own. If you are shopping for a new home, then researching this can be just as important as the house itself. Sometimes HOAs may be so restrictive as to not allow the installation of a satellite dish.

Keep in mind, often a HOA board can levy fees and increase dues without any vote. Check your bylaws carefully to determine how much power the board has, especially if you live in a development with common areas such as a pool or park.

Additional Resources

10 things a HOA Won’t Tell You: http://loan.yahoo.com/m/primer13.html

ABC News Army Captain Sued by HOA: http://abcnews.go.com/US/texas-army-captain-sued-homeowners-association-swing-set/story?id=16252674

The Georgia Property Owners’ Association Act: http://www.nhhoa.org/documents/GA_POA_44-3-220.pdf

Lawyers.com Homeowners Association Law: http://real-estate.lawyers.com/homeowners-association-law/

NOLO Homeowners’ Associations: http://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/homeowners-associations-hoas-ccrs-29786.html

Community Associations Institute: http://www.caionline.org/info/research/pages/default.aspx

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