It may feel as if there is a whole new language that you need to learn in order to become wise in the world of the HOA.  While acquiring complete fluency may take some time, here are some of the key terms that you will want to know and understand when living in a community with a homeowners association.  

Board

When it comes to understanding the terms and jargon associated with homeowners association, the board is a good place to start.  The HOA board is a group of volunteers who live within the community.  They enforce committee guidelines according to the documents (more about these later), maintain common spaces, manage the money that is collected from dues and generally oversee the neighborhood.  In most cases, within the board, there are elected officials.  Typically these roles include president, vice president, secretary and treasurer, in addition to other members.  Often, these guys and gals get a bad wrap, but (with very few exceptions) these people are volunteering their time with the genuine intent to help their community and the members that live within it.  

Architectural Committee

Want to build a deck? Put up a shed? Paint your house? Build a giant statue of yourself in your front yard?  In order to embark on any of these, or a countless number of other projects, you’ll have to get the approval of these folks.  Typically, the architectural committee is made up of volunteers from the community who are tasked with reviewing and then approving or rejecting any requests from homeowners regarding changes to the exterior of their homes.  In order to make decisions about these requests, the committee follows the guidelines that are outlined in the community’s governing documents (we promise, we’ll talk about these).  While it may feel like a whole lot of red tape and logistics to wade through in order to make a simple (or big) change to your own home, the architectural committee actually serves as an important role in maintaining the community. This committee ensures that any changes that residents make to their homes help to maintain and even improve the value of the homes in the community, something that most homeowners would agree to be important to them.

Covenants, Conditions & Restrictions (CC&Rs or Declaration)

Think of the CC&Rs as the rules, limitations, and requirements that outline what homeowners within the community can and cannot do with their property. Additionally, the CC&Rs define the contractual obligations of the HOA. Typically, within this document, you will see the specifics around your community’s stance on things like the expected maintenance of your home, vehicles (where you can park, what types of vehicles are prohibited, etc.), restrictions in regards to pets or other animals, and alterations/additions that you are and are not allowed to make to your home. To be clear, these are not merely suggestions, this is a legal document, and by agreeing to purchase a home in the community, you are agreeing to toe the line.

Dues

There are a lot of perks to living within an HOA, but they do not come free.  The dues paid by homeowners on a regular basis, usually monthly or quarterly, are used to maintain the neighborhood and all of the amenities that it has to offer.  Typically, these fees pay for some of the basics, like landscaping and maintenance and repairs.  If you happen to live in a community with parks, a pool, clubhouse or gyms, these fees help to pay for these as well.  Generally speaking, the more your community offers, in terms of amenities, the more you can expect to pay.  And pay you will, because if you choose to conveniently ignore those bills, you can be putting yourself in some serious hot water.  Failure to pay your dues can result in legal action taken against you for all unpaid fees and interest, and even having a lien placed on your home.  So when you find yourself grumbling as you write yet another check to your HOA, remember all the wonderful things that your community offers, as well as how much you like actually living in your house.