December 1, 2020

HOA Governing Documents Explained

An HOA’s foundational components are its governing documents that establish how exactly the association functions on a large and day-to-day scale. Governing documents are crucial to understanding for both the board members enforcing them and the HOA residents seeking to adhere to them. Yet, because of how comprehensive and formal these documents can be, HOA members need to understand where and what to look for within these documents if seeking guidance or to resolve a conflict within the HOA.  

What are the HOA Governing Documents?

As we previously discussed, the governing documents can be broken down into several groups, established in a hierarchy of power and importance over the respective forms below. In other words, when first looking through your HOA’s governing documents, it’s essential to understand how the papers towards the top of the hierarchy affect the documents that follow. The order is as follows:

  • Federal, State, and Local Laws
  • The HOA Plat/Map
  • Declaration of CC&R’s 
  • Articles of Incorporation
  • HOA Bylaws
  • Rules & Regulations

Each of these sections, although typically quite dense and comprehensive with the material in many areas, create a full-fledged outlook of what actions and processes are required by law and the HOA in almost any situation. Each category of governing documents has a particular theme and purpose, as well. While some of the documents might be related primarily to HOA residents and the rules they must abide by while living within the HOA, others might be designed mainly to outline the regulations involving the HOA board members instead. 

Why are the HOA Governing Documents Important?

These documents are vitally important because they, above all, provide clarification and accountability for every role and process within the HOA. Having access to the governing documents eliminates the potential for conflicts within the association between residents, board members, or management firms to become even more convoluted if the parties involved don’t know where to look for guidance on a resolution. 

Not every issue or conflict can be solved solely by using the governing documents. Still, at the very least, they can prepare residents for what to expect living within a particular HOA, as well as give assistance to board members looking to amend governing documents if necessary. The governing documents function as a failsafe that every single HOA must have readily available and organized adequately for every party within the community. 

The HOA Governing Documents Hierarchy

Federal, State, and Local Laws

At the top of the hierarchy are the respective federal or state property laws that preside over the rest of the HOA governing documents. What that means is that, above all, and depending on the condition the HOA is founded in, those particular laws dictate how an HOA can be established, what must be required by law to be within the rest of the documents, and what other governing documents would be in violation of those laws if they were to be altered. In other words, if an issue were to arise within the HOA regarding another section of the governing documents, both residents and board members could potentially look to state or federal laws for resolution purposes if the HOA was in fact in violation of established law. 

The HOA Plat/Map

The plat is a drawn-to-scale map of the land on which the HOA is built, and it can be a useful tool in establishing many of the physical characteristics of the property and lots that the HOA was built on. Real estate developers primarily design much of the HOA plat to define better the property aspects such as residential boundaries, streets, and housing lots. This can play an essential role for residents to better understand the nature of their particular lot, as the plat also establishes, in some detail, who might be legally responsible for a specific piece of land within the community. For example, if there were a maintenance issue outside of a particular residence that the homeowners and board members were unsure of who the responsible party was for clearing up the problem, they could potentially look to the HOA plat for answers. 

Declaration of CC&R’s 

Although they are not the highest-ranking item in the hierarchy, CC&R’s (Covenants, Conditions, & Regulations) arguably carry the most important of any governing documents. CC&R’s essentially help residents understand, in as much detail as possible, everything that is or isn’t allowed within the HOA. Typical themes within the CC&R’s documentation include what residents and owners can or can’t do on their respective property, which pieces of the HOA are under the board’s control, such as community areas, as well as strict guidelines for how HOA board members should abide by the CC&R’s as well. 

Easily the most extensive section of the governing documents, CC&R’s are also arguably the most amendable documents too. These particular documents cover concrete regulatory measures within the HOA. With that comes the ability for them to be amended if and when a specific section of the CC&R’s becomes outdated or violate the governing documents above. 

Articles of Incorporation

In short, the articles of incorporation are the documents that establish the HOA, to begin with. However, there is very little documentation included within them in terms of useful information that residents or board members might need in most conflicts. Regardless, their use in establishing the HOA foundation is necessary so that a resident may obtain as comprehensive a list of governing documents as possible. 

Bylaws

The bylaws within an HOA are very important, even if they’re lower ranked in the hierarchy of documentation. Bylaws not only further legitimize the CC&R’s as well as other rules and regulations within the HOA, but they also establish the way in which the HOA board members must conduct themselves as well as how the board functions in the first place. 

In other words, bylaws dictate what the board can and can’t do and how and when board members are elected into their positions to begin with. Issues such as board member terms, budgetary issues, and election protocols are all established within the bylaws and are very important for homeowners to understand to participate as consistently as possible. While other regulatory documents such as the CC&R’s dictate what exactly will be regulated within the HOA, the bylaws help define the means with which those enforcements occur. 

Rules and Regulations

Although these documents partially bleed into sections such as the CC&R’s and bylaws, the general rules and regulations established in an HOA’s governing documents include everything from what type of items is allowed in residents’ yards whether or not a homeowner can park in the street. These documents revolve around specifying certain areas of the much bigger regulatory documents so that residents can fully understand what they can or can’t do on their property or in the community areas of the HOA. 

A woman searching through public files in an office.

Are HOA Governing Documents Public Record?

The answer here varies mostly depending on the state one resides in. However, in most cases, documents are readily available for residents to request, along with a small transaction fee. Although most governing documents are available for the public record, some documents are not legally required to be released.  These include any information involving another resident’s general or financial information as well as anything involving a current or past legal matter that might be or might have been under litigation. Other than private or legal issues, any other governing documents, from minutes of a board members’ meeting to a comprehensive CC&R’s list, is no more than a request to either the HOA board or accompanying management firm for most residents. 

See the TownSq Document Control Feature in action

Ensuring the members of your HOA remain informed on the rules and regulations of their community is incredibly important. At TownSq, we aim to keep community members and boards informed through the use of our app and software. In the TownSq app, you can upload HOA Governing Documents directly into the app so that each and every resident or board member can access them at any time. As we enter into 2021 with a pandemic on our heels and post-election runoff drawing closer, keeping communities safe, informed, and on top of regulations is more important than ever. Keep your community safe with TownSq.

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