What to know before you buy in a community association

People choose to live in community associations for numerous reasons. Many owners value the inherent benefits of community associations, which are designed to manage common areas of the property, manage the property interests of owners, provide services for owners, and develop a sense of community through social activities and amenities. Yet community association living isn’t for everyone.

Do your due diligence by learning all you can about a community before you buy or rent a home in it.

First, ask your real estate agent to see copies of the governing documents, including the bylaws or Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions (sometimes referred to as CC&Rs).

Next, take the time to talk to people who live in the community. Find out how they feel not only about the neighborhood, but also about how the community is governed and managed. Ask to talk to the president of the association, members of the elected board, or the professional who manages the community.

Don’t forget to check out the common areas. Are the amenities—pools, tennis courts, and playgrounds—well-maintained? Is there ample parking?

You should be able to answer the following questions before you buy or rent:

  • How much are the assessments? When are payments due? How much are they likely to increase? What do they cover? What don’t they cover?
  • Does the community have a viable reserve fund for major projects in the future?
  • Are there renting restrictions?
  • Do the architectural guidelines suit your preferences?
  • What are the rules with respect to pets, flags, outside antennas, satellite dishes, clotheslines, fences, patios, and home-based businesses?

While assessments, rules, and regulations are important, don’t overlook other fundamental questions: Is it the right kind of community for you and your family? Does it fit your lifestyle and sense of community? Does it provide the amenities you want? Is it a good investment? The more you know in advance, the more likely you’ll enjoy your new home and community association.

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Make a Bigger Statement in the Kitchen: Stylish Hoods

By Melissa Dittmann Tracey, REALTOR® Magazine That spot over the stove is prime real estate in the kitchen these days. Lately that space is being reserved for a decorative hood, which is becoming almost like a centerpiece of the kitchen. Stainless steel hoods have been all the rage in recent years. But brass hoods and […]

An unbiased, unfiltered guide to 2018 midterm election signs

Getty Images/Alexeys

The 2018 midterm elections are less than two weeks away, which means, of course, campaign signs are popping up like dandelions in yards and along roads.

These signs become a particular pain point for community associations every election season. Without fail, some communities end up on the evening news or in the local newspaper for attempting to enforce their covenants on signs.

We asked James A. Gustino, a community association attorney in Winter Garden, Fla., to provide some guidance on the subject. What should associations do about the signs? This is what he had to say:

Strict enforcement of association sign prohibitions, particularly as they relate to political signs on an owner’s property during the election season, is almost always unwise.

Check your state’s highest court rulings and the specific “freedom of speech” verbiage in your state’s constitution. Most federal and state courts currently don’t protect political signs from association enforcement. However, the New Jersey Supreme Court issued a pair of decisions in 2012 and 2014 protecting political speech. These opinions could influence other state courts considering similar legal issues in the future.

Covenants restricting signs often incorporate exceptions for security, developer, “for sale” and other board-approved signs. Under such circumstances, an association actively enforcing bans against political signs is unnecessarily exposing itself to charges of selective or arbitrary enforcement. When a ban on signs is universal but an association permits residents’ holiday decorations—another kind of speech—it also exposes itself to claims of selective or arbitrary enforcement. This nuance is often overlooked.

Practically speaking, political signs usually are posted for just a few weeks. By the time the typical association cycles through its standard three noncompliance notifications, the signs will likely have been removed.

Lastly, political beliefs and affiliations—like religious beliefs—tend to produce strong feelings that lead to costly and time-consuming litigation. Even if litigation isn’t the end result, is it sensible to pursue actions that invite unnecessary friction?

I recommend that my clients permit political signs but enact reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions. For example:

  • They can only be placed on the property for 45 days prior to an election
  • They must be removed within three days after the election
  • They cannot contain any profanity
  • They must be limited in number
  • They cannot create a sight obstruction or other safety concern.

I also advocate involving community members to help craft the association’s specific restrictions and then prominently posting (via email blasts, special notices on your website and at entry signs) the rules to encourage compliance.

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HOAs, BOTs, CC&Rs, and more: Defining community association terms

Today, 70 million Americans live in 344,500 common-interest communities. Even if you haven’t lived in a condo, co-op, or HOA, chances are you’ve at least heard of these communities. Admittedly, those who live in, volunteer in, and work for common-interest communities tend to throw around terms like “ARC,” “CC&Rs,” “D&O” or “CMCA” that make things sound more complicated than they really are. So let’s pull back the curtain on some important terms related to living in and working in community associations.

Types of communities

CA: Community Association

CID: Common-Interest Development

Co-op: Cooperative

Condo: Condominium

HOA: Homeowners Association

PD: Planned Development

POA: Property Owners Association

PUD: Planned Unit Development

TOA: Townhouse Owners Association

Community leadership, governance and operations

ARC: Architectural Review Committee

BOD: Board of Directors

BOT: Board of Trustees

CC&Rs: Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions

D&O: Directors & Officers liability insurance

E&O: Errors & Omissions insurance

RFP: Request for Proposal

SOP: Standard Operating Procedures

General CAI terms

CAI: Community Associations Institute

CAMICB: Community Association Manager International Certification Board, a sister organization to CAI.

FCAR: Foundation for Community Association Research, also a CAI affiliate

CCAL: College of Community Association Lawyers

LAC: Legislative Action Committee

PMDP: Professional Management Development Program

Designations, Certifications, and Accreditations
AAMC: Accredited Association Management Company

AMS: Association Management Specialist

CIRMS: Community Insurance & Risk Management Specialist

CMCA: Certified Manager of Community Associations

LSM: Large-Scale Manager

PCAM: Professional Community Association Manager

RS: Reserve Specialist

Whatever the acronym, all community associations—CA, condo, HOA, POA, TOA, etc.—share a few essential goals: preserving the nature and character of the community, providing services and amenities to residents, protecting property values and meeting the established expectations of owners.

Stumped by other acronyms or industry terms? Ask a question in the comments below.

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What do community associations look like in China?

Shanghai urban skyline, China

Picture this: A place where community associations aren’t legally able to have their own bank accounts, property management companies can retain ownership of common areas and rent them out without homeowners’ consent, and developers interfere with board elections because they are opposed to the formation of community associations. While this might seem improbable, situations like these occur frequently in China.

In the U.S., the community association housing model has become commonplace. According to the latest figures from the Foundation for Community Association Research, there are roughly 344,500 common-interest communities across the country. CAI has chapters throughout the world, including Canada, the Middle East, and South Africa, and relationships with housing officials in Australia, Spain, Saudi Arabia, and the United Kingdom. But how prevalent are community associations elsewhere in the world?

They’re a recent development in China, emerging shortly after housing reforms in the 1990s. Previously, urban housing was mainly provided by danwei, or place of employment. Danwei were organized by occupation and were both a physical space where people lived and a system whereby the government could regulate residents’ decisions and actions. With economic and political reform, this system largely became obsolete, leading to significant housing changes.

In response to property rights violations by developers and property management companies, community associations began to emerge. Developers have been faulted for failing to give homeowners their deeds and using them as collateral for loans, understating the area of the home, or not providing promised amenities. Unlike in the U.S., where community associations are usually formed by developers and membership occurs upon purchase of a home, associations in China are a grassroots effort spearheaded by residents to preserve their rights.

From a cultural and political perspective, community associations are novel in the single-party authoritarian regime that is the People’s Republic of China. In a 2008 dissertation by Feng Wang, at the time a Doctorate of Philosophy candidate at the University of Southern California, local governments often looked down upon associations as “an unstable social force that interrupts the establishment of a harmonious society.”

In China, a community association needs to form a preparatory group before it can officially establish—a difficult process. Residents need a representative from their developer and management company. Without their participation, local governments easily strike down the burgeoning association. The group also must meet a voting threshold for approval, and appeal to the management company or developer for a list of residents’ names and contact information to generate participation. Causing further complications, the initial vote is determined by property percentage. This gives developers an opportunity to vote to block its formation if they still own unsold units.

Despite the difficulty in forming and managing community associations, some have achieved commendable success in the country. In 1998 (before some important reforms), residents in one housing complex in China staged a coup and successfully disbanded their HOA after discovering that their management company had falsified a neighborhood mandate giving them permission to form the group. New leadership was voted in, and an HOA with community approved leadership was formed. The group was even able to successfully negotiate lower fees with the management company.

The residential conflict commonly reported in the media in community associations across the U.S. seems trivial compared to the conflict between developers, property managers, and homeowners in China. One might even wonder at the seeming lack of internal disputes among Chinese residents. In fact, according to a survey conducted by Wang, 92 percent of homeowners rate conflict among themselves as a serious issue, but only 25 percent of community associations focus efforts on addressing these issues. It is precisely because of the focus on exterior challenges, rather than internal conflict, that many community associations in China have flourished despite an unfavorable environment.

Through transparency, inclusion, and mobilization of homeowners in China, associations have made huge gains for the rights of residents. Whether in China or the U.S., community associations cannot lose sight of their goals: to elevate residents’ standard of living and protect property values.

Read more about homeowners association in China in the following:

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