Homeowners associations (HOAs) provide many benefits to residents, from managing amenities to maintaining common areas and enforcing the association’s rules and regulations. Homeowner compliance with the HOA rules and regulations and covenants, when consistently enforced, help provide uniformity and aesthetically pleasing communities.
How do HOAs set rules and adopt new ones? Generally speaking, the rules and regulations are drafted and approved by a board of directors. There are some HOA governing documents that require membership approval, but that’s few and far between. These rules may be discussed during the HOA meetings which a portion of some are open to homeowners, with the North Carolina statutes guaranteeing time during some meetings for resident feedback.
Rules and regulations set by HOAs can cover physical and behavioral things like parking, noise, external home modifications, occupancy limits, rentals, lawn maintenance, odors, garbage and recycling, parking and pets.
If you buy a home in a community governed by a HOA, you have to abide by the HOA rules, plain and simple. It’s important that board members in these communities know the difference between property rights and HOA rules that create harmony within a neighborhood and help enhance property values.
Getting a copy of the HOA bylaws, covenants, and rules and regulations and reading them thoroughly, is the best way to avoid violations. Many associations publish these online. the Covenants are required to record such records in the county in which they’re located and the association or management company will provide them to homeowners upon request.
In every HOA, the rules and regulations need to be reasonable and enforceable. At CAMS we’ve seen our fair share of HOAs who’ve adopted rules without any idea of how to enforce them. For example, banning dogs over 15 pounds. Aside from carrying around a digital scale to weigh residents’ pets, how is a HOA supposed to determine which homeowners are in violation?
With regard to violations, each HOA should have a written enforcement policy - this can be drafted by the board of directors with guidance from the community manager. One of the most important aspects of rule enforcement is consistency. We try to educate HOA boards on the benefits of doing surprise inspections less frequently, instead announcing the inspections to homeowners well in advance. By telling residents there is going to be a compliance inspection on a certain date, and they have until that date to get things up-to-date, the HOA is accomplishing the overall goal of getting homeowners into compliance without the need to issue citations.
There are standard procedures for notifying a homeowner that he or she is not in compliance with HOA rules. Within two-to-three days of an inspection, a letter or email should be received by the homeowner. In accordance with North Carolina statutes, which ensure due process, the homeowner needs to be granted time to correct an issue or appear in front of a board or adjudication committee to challenge the citation and plead their case as to why they claim to be in compliance and not to be fined.
Homeowners having trouble accepting the ultimate judgment in their case may look to the state of North Carolina for help, but they will likely be disappointed. The Secretary of State, for example, cannot force an HOA to take action or not take action; in fact, there’s not any government agency at the state or federal level that regulates HOAs. Rather, HOAs and condominiums in North Carolina are required to operate under guidelines of the Planned Community Act (47F) or the Condominium Act (47 A and C)of the North Carolina General Statutes.
If a homeowner doesn’t like an HOA rule and wants to change it, the first thing they could do is go before their HOA board and have an open discussion as to the rule’s pros and cons. If that doesn’t work, a homeowner can run for a board seat to try to change the rules from within. If that is not an option, a homeowner can call for a special meeting for removal of one or more board members, which requires 10 percent of the HOA members (homeowners) to sign a petition to have a special meeting. This will trigger a special meeting and other processes as the situation develops further.
Ultimately, homeowners can avoid any difficulties with compliance by understanding the powers of their HOA, as well as their own responsibilities.. Reaching out to neighbors for information about the HOA and the management company is a good way for new residents to begin learning more about their community and what is expected of homeowners.