Homeowners Guide to Understanding HOA

By:Burke Nielsen - December 7, 2017

With 69 million Americans living in common interest communities, nearly all of us have at least heard of HOAs.  In states like Florida, you would be hard-pressed to find a neighborhood that isn’t governed by a homeowners association.  Even with the rapid growth of common interest communities, many homeowners don’t really understand how they work and what they can do to make their community better.  

While “Resident Discontent” and “Resident Apathy” may not be the most serious concerns for HOAs they definitely make the shortlist.  Just ask a community manager, they will tell you that the best communities have engaged homeowners, good communication, and effective committees.  

Unfortunately, many HOA members don’t know where to start. Here are three things that every homeowner should know about their HOA and how to make it better. 

Don’t Kill the Messenger

One of the most common misunderstandings in an HOA is that the community manager calls all the shots.  When you get a letter from the management company, remember, they are simply the messenger.  Debating with a manager why you should be able to have tinfoil on your windows isn’t productive.  The fact is, the manager didn’t make the rule and they don’t have the power to change it.  They are simply tasked with enforcing the rule and handling the day-to-day for the HOA. 

While it’s true that the manager is the point of contact, they can only report to the board.  The HOA board adopts rules and policies for the HOA.  With that said, in most cases, the manager is a trusted advisor to the board, so treat with kindness and respect you are more likely to have an ally, instead of an enemy.  

Apathy Breeds Tyranny

Many homeowners and board member have the attitude that “no news is good news”. This attitude can lead to reluctant communication.  Reluctant communication is when boards fail to provide homeowners with basic information and homeowners ignore HOA news.  The board wants to get stuff done without resistance from uninformed homeowners, so they don’t bother informing the members.  The homeowners are busy and assume that their input isn’t needed so they ignore the HOA issues. This creates an environment where one or two rogue members can influence the HOA to meet their own selfish wants. 

Good HOAs fosters transparency, welcomes suggestions and ideas, and communicates above and beyond what is expected.  Good homeowners educate themselves about the HOA, attending meetings, and help on committees.  When homeowners get involved it’s much harder for self-interest to drive rules and policies.  Homeowner participation brings fresh ideas and differing perspectives to the table, shutting down overbearing individuals who push for selfish policies. 

Be a Problem Solver

Getting involved in your community is important, but how you get involved can make all the difference. For example: Calling the manager 6 times a week to gripe about your neighbors, or showing up to the annual meeting with a list of your top 25 complaints, isn’t a productive way to get involved.  

Community members have the power to bring about positive change. Positive change comes through understanding the HOA rules, attending meetings, and contributing ideas, time, and skills, to help the community. The truth is, HOAs don’t have to be a necessary evil.  With good leadership and involved members, they can become an asset to the community.  Members who get involved, understand HOA issues and treat each other with respect and diplomacy. So remember, if you’re not satisfied with your HOA, step up and be the change.