Understanding HOA Rules
Hi, I’m Noelle Cummings with Windermere Bay Area Properties in Walnut Creek, California.
Are you searching for property in a Homeowners Association? Do you live in an HOA and you’re frustrated by all the rules? Hopefully, this video will help you to understand what rules are in play, and why.
The rules that govern a Homeowners Association are put in place by the developer of a community when it’s originally built. In the world of HOA’s, these rules are referred to as “governing documents”. There is a hierarchy of documents, meaning some have greater authority than others, so I’ll review them with you in that order.
First in the hierarchy of documents is California Law. The portion of California Civil Code that governs HOA’s is known as the Davis-Stirling Act (note the unusual spelling of Stirling, with an “i”, instead of an “e”). If you ever have questions about HOA law in the state of California, a great source of easy to understand information can be found at davis-stirling.com.
Next in the hierarchy are the CC&Rs, which stands for Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions. Of course California law is the same for everyone, but CC&Rs are written specifically for each community. Let’s go word by word:
- “Covenants” are promises. When you purchase property in an HOA, you are in effect promising to follow the governing documents and to pay your assessments, or “dues”. This promise is imposed on anyone who holds title to the property, now or in the future.
- “Conditions”. There are very few if any real conditions in most CC&Rs. Arguably, paying assessments is a condition of keeping your home or condo, because failure to pay them can result in the loss of ownership of your property.
- Finally, “restrictions” are limitations imposed on owners on the use of their property. Some examples of the type of restrictions you’ll see, are limitations on the number of animals you can keep or the number of cars you can park within the community. Contrary to popular belief, the purpose of the restrictions is not to make your life miserable, but to maintain property values and order among neighbors. In fact, restrictions can be to your benefit, as they protect certain rights of yours, like limiting the height that your neighbors’ trees can grow to so that your views are unaffected.
Third in the hierarchy are the Articles of Incorporation. These are only a few pages long and they mainly identify the association as a corporation and state the name and address of the association’s managing agent, if there is one. Articles of incorporation are filed with the Secretary of State. To find out if an Association is incorporated, or to learn who the managing agent is, you can visit the Secretary of State website at businesssearch.sos.ca.gov.
Fourth in line are the Bylaws. Bylaws establish policies and procedures for the governing of the association. Bylaws usually outline qualifications for the election of Board members, their number and term of office, their powers and duties, the appointment of committees, et cetera.
Lastly are the Rules & Regulations. These may include parking rules if there are none in the CC&Rs, or the rules in the CC&Rs are unclear or somehow limited; Pool Rules, Architectural rules, and any other rules necessary to effectively manage the use of shared property. The Board of Directors has the authority to adopt and enforce rules in the community, but they are required by law to notify members in advance of any new rules or rule changes proposed for adoption; and to allow a specific time period for members to comment, question, or object to the proposed rule. It’s important to understand that even if there are objections to proposed rules, the Board may still adopt them if they believe them to be in the best interest of the Association as a whole.
Now, I’m not going to go into detail of all possible rules, because again, I can’t stress enough that every association is unique and will have its own set of rules based upon the specific make-up of the community. However, I do want to mention a set of rules that can be a major point of contention – Architectural Rules. Make sure you are familiar with these rules and ask questions BEFORE making any changes to your property. If Architectural rules aren’t followed, resolution can become a costly headache for both you and the Association.
As a final note, the law allows for revision and rewriting of governing documents, however in some cases, this can be an extremely time consuming and expensive project, that should only be done with the involvement of a reputable HOA attorney.
I hope this overview of the main documents related to Homeowner Association’s has been beneficial to you, no matter what situation you are in. If you end up living in an HOA and you have questions or concerns about your community, get involved, attend Board meetings, and volunteer for the Board if you can. I promise you won’t regret getting involved in the community you call home.
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