Who Governs Homeowners Associations?

Who Governs Homeowners Associations?

If you live in a neighborhood or community governed by a homeowners association (HOA), you’ve likely wondered exactly who makes the rules and decisions for that HOA. After all, these associations can have a major impact on your living experience and property rights through covenants, assessments, and regulations.

While HOAs are unique non-profit entities, they don’t exist in a complete vacuum. Instead, a multi-layered web of governing bodies, laws, and elected boards helps dictate the powers and boundaries HOAs must operate within.

Understanding this governance structure ensures your HOA maintains proper checks and balances – rather than operating as an unchecked shadow government. Let’s dig in and take a look at who’s in charge of your HOA.

 

 

State HOA Laws and Regulations

The primary laws actually governing and enabling HOAs are established at the state level through legislative statutes and administrative codes.

Every U.S. state has enacted laws that define the legal status of HOAs, their abilities to enforce covenants, assessment powers, board voting rules, and more. These form the core framework within which HOAs must operate.

Some examples of state HOA acts include:

  • The Uniform Condominium Act and Uniform Planned Community Act (model legislation)
  • California’s Davis-Stirling Act
  • The Florida Homeowners’ Association Act
  • The Texas Residential Property Owners Protection Act

These acts typically require HOAs to properly incorporate, record governing documents, give homeowners a voice through elections and meetings, maintain reserve funds, and avoid discriminatory or overly restrictive rules.

Local Municipal Ordinances and Oversight

In addition to state laws, local cities, and counties can pass ordinances that add another layer of oversight and limitations on HOAs within their jurisdictions.

For example, some municipalities require HOA boards to publicly notify homeowners of meetings, follow open meeting laws and may cap excessive fines or fees levied by the HOA.

City and county zoning laws can also supersede certain aesthetic HOA rules regarding property usage in cases of conflict.

The HOA’s Governing Documents

Most of an HOA’s specific policies and covenant enforcement powers stem from a hierarchy of internal legal documents required by state law:

  1. The Declaration of Covenants, Conditions & Restrictions (CC&Rs)
  2. The Articles of Incorporation
  3. The Bylaws
  4. The Architectural Guidelines

These documents are created when the neighborhood is first developed, and all future homeowners agree to the terms upon purchase. They outline the HOA’s broad purpose, ability to assess fees, and enforce rules around property usage/aesthetics.

Changes or amendments require homeowner voting per the HOA’s internal processes defined in these documents themselves.

The Elected HOA Board

At the community level, all homeowners who’ve purchased property in the HOA automatically become “members” with rights to vote in annual elections for the HOA’s Board of Directors.

This Board is responsible for representing homeowner interests, approving budgets and fees, enforcing covenants, managing reserves, hiring contractors or management firms, and generally steering HOA operations within the parameters of the governing documents.

Professional HOA Management Companies

Rather than relying solely on the volunteer HOA board, most communities hire professional HOA management companies to handle day-to-day operations like accounting, maintenance oversight, legal/compliance matters, homeowner communications, and other tasks.

These management firms essentially become bound to enforce the HOA’s established covenants and decisions made by the elected board.

Homeowner Member Voting Rights 

While the elected HOA board and any hired management company handle operations, homeowners as “members” of the HOA still maintain crucial online voting rights on certain issues per the governing documents.

Typical homeowner voting matters include:

  • Annually electing the HOA Board of Directors
  • Approving annual budgets and any fee increases
  • Amending or updating the CC&Rs, bylaws, etc.
  • Approving special assessments for major expenses
  • Potentially voting to terminate the HOA entirely

Through these voting abilities, homeowners maintain some checks and balances on HOA leadership rather than an outright oligarchy.

Government Oversight and Accountability 

Depending on the state and locality, there may also be government agencies and programs that provide additional HOA oversight and dispute resolution.

For example, California has a State HOA Bureau that fields homeowner complaints, mandates educational certifications for HOA board members/managers, and enforces regulations.

Other states have HOA ombudsman programs or “offices of commonwealth community associations” to mediate conflicts and ensure proper HOA governance.

The courts can also intervene if an HOA is provably mismanaged, discriminatory, or operating well outside its legal parameters defined in state laws/municipal codes.

No Unchecked HOA Power 

While HOAs maintain significant legal authority to govern neighborhoods through covenants and shared costs, it’s clear they don’t operate as wholly independent entities.

From the overarching state legislation and local ordinances to the governing documents all homeowners agree to, the elected boards, and homeowner voting rights – there are multiple layers of oversight and balance of powers.

Engaged homeowners who stay informed on HOA matters and governing processes can ensure their community runs transparently and avoids any unchecked abuses or illegal overreaches of power.

Understanding this broader governance structure is important for purchasing a home in an HOA and making your voice heard as a member going forward.

FAQ

Who oversees HOAs in my state?

Each U.S. state has its laws and regulations that provide the legal framework for how HOAs can operate within that state. Many states also have dedicated agencies or ombudsman offices that field homeowner complaints and enforce HOA rules.

What government agency oversees HOAs?

There is no single federal government agency that directly oversees HOAs. Governance happens at the state level through HOA Acts, statutes, and some municipal/county ordinances.

Can you refuse to join a homeowners association?

If you purchase a property within an existing HOA community, you must legally join and abide by the HOA’s covenants and pay fees. The only way to avoid it is by not purchasing in that neighborhood.

Can an HOA dissolve or terminate?

Yes, HOAs can potentially be dissolved if a very high percentage of homeowners (usually 80%+) vote to terminate the association per the established bylaws and governing documents.

Do HOA bylaws supersede covenants?

No, the Declaration of Covenants, Conditions & Restrictions (CC&Rs) is considered the highest governing document over HOA bylaws. Bylaws cannot conflict with or supersede the CC&Rs.

How do I find my local HOA rules? 

Your community’s governing documents, such as CC&Rs and bylaws, should have been provided when you purchased your HOA property. You can also request copies from the HOA board or management company.

Can local laws override HOA rules? 

In many cases, yes – municipal zoning laws and ordinances can supersede conflicting HOA covenants related to property usage, fencing, landscaping, and other areas governed by local jurisdictions.

Can an HOA change rules after purchase? 

Yes, the HOA board and homeowner voting can approve amendments to rules, bylaws, and even the CC&Rs through proper procedures. But new owners are protected from radical rule changes that drastically alter what they buy into.

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