If you plan on purchasing a home in Central Florida, you should know that homeowners associations (also known as HOA’s) are a fact of life.
First – full disclosure – I live in one of the few areas in Orlando that does NOT have a homeowners association. I despise them – but that’s because I had some bad experiences when I was renting. I see their value now, but I’m still glad I don’t have to deal with them.
Homeowners associations are usually formed by the developer when the community is first built. Initially, these associations are run by the builder and eventually turned over to the residents. Rules and by-laws are adopted that govern many aspects of the community’s policies. These policies often include things like what kind of lawn maintenance is required, what colors you can paint your house, what types of decorations can be visible in your yard. In more extreme examples, some HoA’s will even tell you what color and style of blinds or curtains you can put up.
Some homeowners associations maintain websites that outline their rules and requirements, like this one from the Wingfield Reserve community in Longwood, FL.
The fees charged by homeowner associations vary. On average, the monthly HOA fee will be in the $100-$300 range. However, in more affluent communities it can be higher. HOA fees are used to cover the cost of maintaining common amenities like the community pool, landscaping of public grounds, activity center, etc. If you live in a gated community that has a 24-hour guard to allow visitors in, you can expect to pay more per month in your HOA fees.
Now, the good part of this is that a well-run homeowners association helps maintain the property values of the homes within the community. Making sure that houses are well maintained, that community areas are well kept, makes the community better for everyone. Most HOA’s are well run and most people rarely have issues.
With that being said – homeowners associations are run by the residents and in some cases that’s like the asylum being run by the patients. Every so often you’ll come across a clipboard carrying control freak who drives the neighborhood at 3 am searching for any minor violation. Here’s the thing – the only thing you can do about it is vote to remove them at the next election.
If you’re thinking about challenging your homeowner association legally for some reason, you should know that courts have generally upheld HOA rules. There are scant few cases where homeowners have prevailed. The exceptions to that are when HOA’s have either not followed the rules outlined in the charter, or acted outside their legal authority. The bottom line is you agree to these rules when you purchase. You’ve effectively signed a contract and are bound by it. In extreme cases, courts have upheld that HOA’s can take your home if you refuse to abide by their rules. While that is the most extreme measure, it is also very rare. However, as there are times where you’ll find an overzealous HOA president, you’ll also find obstinate residents who refuse to comply with HOA rules.
I mention this only to present a balanced perspective. Overall, HOA’s are very good things that serve a good purpose and help keep communities running and looking their best. Share your experiences with HOA’s in the comments below.