A Crash Course In Understanding HOA Documents

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All homeowners should familiarize themselves with the different HOA documents. Understanding these documents is a crucial step toward a harmonious and problem-free experience in an association.

What Are HOA Documents?

Homeowners associations are governed by a set of documents. Collectively, these documents are referred to as the governing documents. However, each document plays a critical role in the operation of an association. These documents also conform to a hierarchy, which dictates precedence.

It is paramount that homeowners and board members understand how each document affects the HOA and themselves. Because these documents lay down the foundation for any association, they often contain guidelines and requirements that should be addressed. Most of the time, associations must record their governing documents with the state or county recorder’s office to make them enforceable.

Here is the hierarchy of HOA governing documents.

1. Federal, State, and Local Laws

While not technically a “recorded document,” the laws of the land take precedence over everything else. There are federal, state, and local laws that govern the actions of associations.

Two foremost examples of such laws are the Fair Housing Act and the Americans With Disabilities Act. Other federal laws that affect HOAs include the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, the Freedom to Display the American Flag Act, the Over-the-Air Reception Devices Rule, and the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, among others.

States also have their own laws governing associations. For instance, in California, these are the Davis-Stirling Common Interest Development Act and the California Corporations Code.

The latter takes precedence if an association’s rules conflict with federal, state, or local laws. However, there are times when the law will defer to an HOA’s governing documents.

2. Community Plat

The community plat or map is a recorded document showing the plan of the entire subdivision or association. It displays property locations, establishes boundary lines, and clarifies maintenance obligations. It also presents each property or unit’s exact measurements and dimensions, including any setback requirements or easements.

Other things you may find in the community plat include:

  • Specifications for trash enclosures
  • Access restrictions for vehicles
  • Handicapped parking spaces
  • Parking restrictions
  • Landscaping restrictions
  • Areas for future development

3. CC&Rs

The CC&Rs are perhaps the most comprehensive among the many homeowners association documents. Short for the Declaration of Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions, the CC&Rs dictate the rights and responsibilities of both the HOA and the homeowners.

Common provisions you will find contained in the CC&Rs include:

  • Assessment or dues obligations
  • Maintenance responsibilities
  • Enforcement authorities
  • Dispute resolution processes
  • Violations enforcement

Simply put, the CC&Rs lay down what homeowners should and can’t do. This document often contains architectural guidelines and property use restrictions. More often than not, homeowners need to secure permission from the HOA to make modifications or improvements to their properties or units. This is to maintain the community’s consistent character and aesthetic.

Apart from this, the CC&Rs also present the possible penalties for violations. These penalties and the process for issuing them can vary from one association to another.

4. Articles of Incorporation

An association’s Articles of Incorporation contain pertinent information such as the association’s legal name and corporate status. It may also contain the basic functions of the association. 

This document does not affect the rules of the association. However, it plays a vital role in the establishment of the HOA. Associations must typically file this with the state. More often than not, HOAs are formed and operated as nonprofit corporations, though that does not automatically mean they are recognized as such by the IRS.

5. HOA Bylaws

If the CC&Rs have more to do with the rights and obligations of the HOA and its members, the bylaws are more concerned with the association’s operation. The bylaws contain essential information on how the board should run the community.

Common provisions you will find in the HOA bylaws include:

  • The number of board members at any given time
  • The frequency and proper way to conduct board meetings and membership meetings
  • Voting rights of homeowners and board members
  • Election procedures, including candidate qualifications and nominations
  • The term of office for each board member, including term limits
  • The roles and responsibilities of each officer or board member

6. HOA Rules and Regulations

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Finally, the homeowners association rules take last place. Rules differ from the CC&Rs in that they function more to clarify or build upon the covenants and restrictions. An association’s operating rules cover more of the day-to-day aspects of the association.

While rules can differ from one HOA to another, they often cover the following topics:

  • Noise or noise levels
  • Pet restrictions, if any
  • Parking rules
  • Rental restrictions
  • Architectural or landscaping rules
  • Use of amenities

Boards should exercise care when enacting or enforcing the rules of the association. While rules serve an important purpose, boards can’t simply create rules on a whim. Boards should make sure they have the authority to enact these rules. Failing to act within the board’s scope of authority may result in liability issues.

Where to Find HOA Governing Documents

Most of the time, an association’s governing documents are filed with the county recorder’s office. However, homeowners may also request a copy of HOA documents from the association itself. Typically, this means going through the HOA board by completing a form, writing a letter, or fulfilling other procedural requirements.

Remember that most states give homeowners the right to inspect and copy these documents. In California, the governing documents are a part of the “association records” under Civil Code Section 5200 that are subject to inspection. Apart from requesting the board, homeowners may find the governing documents online through the community website, if any.

Buyers are also given a copy of the governing documents before purchasing a home in an HOA. Buyers need to review these documents to determine if they are a good fit for the community. Some buyers dislike the idea of being confined by rules or paying dues. Thus, they may prefer living in something other than an HOA-managed community.

The Final Word

As you can see, HOA documents contain a lot of critical information regarding the rights, responsibilities, and operations of an association. Therefore, homeowners and board members should understand these documents and what they entail. In doing so, they can foster a harmonious community for everyone.

Navigating the ins and outs of HOA documents can come as a challenge. Let First Equity be your guide. Call us today at 650.349.7233 or contact us online to learn more!