Statistics state that, by the end of January, many well-intentioned people have given up hope of following through with their resolutions for the new year.  Given that we now find ourselves solidly in the second month of the new year, it may be important to remind ourselves of the good intentions and fervor with which we greeted 2022.  While you may have fallen off of the healthy eating train, or moved your brand new weights to the back of your closet, to be lost to the sands of time, you can still make the active decision to forge positive changes this year.  That being said, may we perhaps suggest resolving to approach a possibly difficult situation with a bit of grace and diplomacy?  And, if we may suggest further, where best to start then right out your very own front door?  Whether you are a member of your community's HOA, or just a resident within one, here are some of the most common topics that associations and homeowners find themselves battling over.  In the spirit of compassion and progress, let’s do our best to see both sides.

Landscaping and Design Changes

Any planned community will have regulation regarding things like landscaping, paint colors, and what can, or cannot be placed on the outside of a property.  If any resident wishes to make changes to their property, they will likely have to make decisions that follow the rules outlined on the governing documents, as well as apply for, and then have these requests approved before making any changes or improvements.  

For the HOA: Be sure that the process that allows residents to submit requests for improvements and changes to their homes is clear, easy to navigate, and timely.  Your Architectural  Review Committee (the group most often tasked with such things) should be dedicated to hearing the requests of homeowners, as well as keeping the community aesthetically pleasing.  You may need to revisit your documents, if they have not been updated in some time, to address current trends like xeriscaping, artificial grass and solar panels.  If there is no clear language in regards to these additionals, then you will likely find yourself in some difficult situations should homeowners wish to utilize them.  

For the Homeowner:  Have patience.  Rome was not built in a day, and neither will your fancy new she-shed.  Understand that there are valid and important reasons to abide by this process.  As we have discussed here before, the main purpose of the HOA is to keep the value of your home steady and on the rise, so any decision that they make will serve that goal.  Take heart in the fact that, while your totally reasonable requests seem to take longer than you would like to be approved, all of the other totally reasonable (or not so) requests submitted by you neighbors are put through the same scrutiny, ensuring that you will not end up living next door to a a home with a totally rad tie-dye paint job, and 12-foot lawn gnome statue in the front yard.  

Pets

Many, if not most, communities governed by an HOA will have some rules surrounding pets.  The rules, as well as their severity, will vary greatly from community to community, but many will dictate what species and breeds are allowed, as well as number and size of animals.  If the community boasts common areas, then there will also likely be rules as to where pets are allowed to go, whether they must be on a leash, and the responsibilities of owners when accompanying pets to these places.  

For the HOA: Understand that for many residents, their pets are not just a furry friend, they are a full-fledged member of the family,and conflict that arises around them can feel just as personal as if the association were coming after your favorite grandmother.  The best way to handle situations like these, is to be sure that the rules surrounding pets are very, VERY clear in your community’s governing documents.  If problems arise, be sure to approach with compassion, and refer back to these documents.  If expectations are clearly  stated here, most conscientious pet owners will have a keen understanding of the expectinsions before they sign on the dotted line and join the community.  However, if you do find yourself having to broach a pet-related infraction, keeping the situation focused on the documents (don't shoot the messenger), while still keeping the tone sympathetic (and genuine) will help dramatically when faced with these emotionally-charged situations.  

For the Homeowner: Understand that this is not meant to be a personal attack on your family.  Before you move in, or make the decision to bring another furbaby into your home, be sure that you spend some time reading the sections of your community’s CC&Rs regarding pets.  If you make the conscious decision to move into a community with established rules and edicts, then you are also agreeing to abide by those rules, so long as you live there.  Additionally, it is important to note that these rules are put into place with the safety of residents in mind, as well as city and county ordinances.  

Vehicles

The vast majority of planned communities will have some language in their CC&Rs regarding vehicles.  This can limit the number of cars that can be parked on the property (or how many spaces are provided to each home, in the case of townhouses or condominiums), as well as the type of vehicles that can be parked/stored there.  

For the HOA: As always, be sure that the verbiage in your documents is clear.  The majority of disagreements sparked between residents and the associont could have been easily avoided if this were the case.  However, in addition to clarity, be sure that your edicts are reasonable  and are being revisited in order to keep up with changing times.  If your community prohibits company vehicles from being parked on the property, how would you handle a personal vehicle with a decal advertising a home business, etc?

For the Homeowner:  be sure that you are spending some time reviewing your association’s documents before you run out and make any major purchases.  Sure, the vision of the wind blowing through your hair as you speed across the lake on your own, personal motorboat might seem like a dream come true, but that dream can quickly go sideways when you realize that your community does not allow your floating fantasy to be stored on your property.  If you dream of cruising across the county in your tricked-out RV, be sure that your neighborhood will allow for such lodgings to be parked on your property, or else you’ll be spending a pretty penny to have it stored elsewhere while you are staying put in your stationary shelter.  In short, read your documents and ask questions if something seems unclear.