• HOA? Restrictive Covenants? Property Management? HUH?

If you live in a subdivision, you’ve probably heard terms like “HOA” and “Restrictive Covenants” and “Property Managers”, and you might be confused about what these are. All of these are very important, so here is a brief attempt to explain them.

To start with, the premise of all of them is very simple – and that is to maintain (and improve) the values of the property. If you remember this one key concept, the rest makes sense.

The Homeowners Association is comprised of home owners within the subdivision (duh!). Legal documents have been written that establish rights and responsibilities of the members, including electing Officers and Directors from within the membership. These Officials are ultimately charged with the responsibility of doing what is necessary to maintain the values of the properties in the subdivision. Usually, there is a nominal fee collected from each owner to pay for things that are necessary to keep the neighborhood in good condition. I’ll talk more about that shortly.

Most subdivisions have “Restrictive Covenants”. No one likes the term “Restrictive”, but keep in mind that these are in place to protect the values of the properties. Common Restrictive Covenants include limitations on type of pets (usually they must be domesticated, and, very rarely are farm animals acceptable); limitations on size, type and location of fences (more recent subdivisions do not allow chain link fences); location of satellite dishes; number of cars that can be parked at a residence, etc. Often, there will be an “Architectural Review Board” made up of HOA members that must approve home improvement projects. Owners who plan on doing exterior work – such as painting, roofing, even removal of trees – are SUPPOSED to notify the ARB for approval. Again, the ultimate goal is to maintain the value of the properties. Imagine if your neighbor painted their house purple with pink polka dots. Would you really like to see that every morning when you walked outside to get your newspaper? Don’t you think that might scare potential home buyers away from the neighborhood? And wouldn’t that decrease property values?

An extreme case I heard of was a gentleman that wanted to find a large lot with no Restrictive Covenants, so he could build the mansion of his dreams. He found the lot, and built the house. Supposedly it was magnificent. Imagine his surprise when, just a few years later, a mobile home lot was started in the adjoining property. What sort of impact do you think that had on the value of his home? By the same token, what about the people in the mobile homes that were fortunate to have a view of a spectacular home from their window? Restrictive Covenants really are valuable.

The Homeowners, through their Officers, have the right and responsibility to enforce these Restrictive Covenants, which, by the way, are recorded with the County’s Register of Deeds and are legal, enforceable documents.

This leads to another responsibility of the HOA Officers and Directors, who often select a Property Management Company to assist with the maintenance of the subdivision and enforcement of the Restrictive Covenants. Often, the Property Managers will be responsible for upkeep of neighborhood signs and maintaining the common areas – like yard care around the signs and other services. Some HOAs and/or Property Managers may provide a security service, or a community pool. All of these services cost money, and that is what your HOA dues are used for.

Another role of a good Property Management Company is to handle complaints about neighbors and violations of the Restrictive Covenants. Let’s go back to the example of the purple and pink house mentioned earlier. If that was your neighbor, you’d probably be furious and want to confront them about their choice of colors. Of course, that could lead to major issues between you and your neighbor, which isn’t good for anyone. If you were to call the Property Manager and notify them of the violation, it should be their responsibility to inform your neighbor that a complaint has been filed, and that the situation needs to be remedied. The Property Manager will not mention who has made the complaint, so you have that protection. As a quick example, there is a house in my subdivision that seems to have been abandoned, and the yard is usually in horrendous condition. Someone in the area (not an immediate neighbor) reported it to our Property Manager, and he notified the homeowner (who did nothing) and then called the City to mow the lawn and cut down some dead shrubs. The City, by the way, will send the homeowner a bill for the service and a penalty, and place a lien on the house until it is paid.

Of course, a GOOD Property Manager would drive through the subdivision with some sort of regularity, notice if any rules are being violated, and act quickly. I truly wish that would happen more often.

Anyway, I hope this helps explain how things are supposed to work, and how important the HOAs, the Restrictive Covenants, and the Property Manager are to maintaining the values of our homes, which may also be our biggest investments.

Don’t be afraid to contact those in charge of your Association. And don’t be afraid to get involved, either! Most Associations would love to have more people active in them.

By the way, that house that was purple and pink is fictitious (as far as I know). But, if it did happen, the HOA could force that homeowner to repaint his house. So, before you do anything to YOUR house, make sure it is within the guidelines of the HOA and the Restrictive Covenants.

Feel free to leave questions or comments!