how-to-successfully-live-under-a-homeowners-associationIf you buy a condo, townhouse or single-family home in a newer development, you’re likely to become a member of a community association. About 20 percent of Americans live in a community governed by a condo association, homeowners association or co-op board, according to the Community Associations Institute. Community associations come with rules that determine everything from the number of pets you can own to what color you can paint your front door. Some include amenities such as pools, clubhouses and golf courses, while others provide services such as road maintenance and streetlights.

The associations are set up by developers and then turned over to a volunteer board of homeowners once all the units in the development are sold. Those volunteers are responsible for making sure facilities are maintained, collecting maintenance dues and enforcing the rules. Board members are almost never trained in property management.

According to a survey by the Community Associations Institute, statistics show that 64 percent of residents are satisfied with their community association experience and 26 percent are neutral, with only 10 percent dissatisfied. The same survey shows that almost a quarter of residents have experienced a significant disagreement with their association, with landscaping and parking being the two most common causes, followed by finances and architectural issues. Here is a list of things to help you enjoy living in an association.

  • Know the rules before you move in. It’s important to know the policies for pets, parking, rentals, noise, and architectural guidelines to prevent issues when you move in.
  • Follow proper procedures. The association board should set up clear procedures for everything including how to get permission to paint your front door, rental applications, installing a satellite dish, etc. As a homeowner, you should expect to follow those procedures.
  • Go to your neighbor before you go to the board. The board is there to make sure the rules and regulations are followed within the development. If your neighbor’s loud music annoys you, talk to your neighbor first before taking your complaint to the board.
  • Volunteer to help your community. Get involved at your association. It’s not always evident what work the board does and what issues they face. Once you move in, volunteer to help with a project or serve on a committee, and expect to serve on the board at some point. Don’t wait until you’re dissatisfied about something.
  • Try to stay out of court. Every community has a few people who think the rules don’t apply to them, and some would rather fight than comply. A court battle can be costly, both in money and in emotional turmoil within the community.
  • Have a long-range plan. State laws regarding reserves and planning vary, but it always makes sense to plan for items you know will have to be replaced or repaired, such as roads, roofs and pools. If the community has no reserves and no plan, a roof leak at a condo complex could mean a surprise assessment of thousands of dollars for each homeowner.