HOA HOMEOWNERS

HOA Homefront: 18 things I wish all HOA members knew 

HOA living involves a tradeoff of independence in exchange for the benefits the HOA provides. Kelly Richardson offers 18 things HOA members should know. (iStockphoto via Getty Images)

By KELLY G. RICHARDSON | kelly@roattorneys.com | Contributing Columnist

PUBLISHED: May 24, 2024 at 8:00 a.m. | UPDATED: May 24, 2024 at 8:00 a.m.

This is the second in a five-part series on HOA need-to-know items.

1. HOA living involves a tradeoff of independence in exchange for the benefits the HOA provides. Someone unwilling to trust others to make decisions and who must personally make all decisions is probably not cut out for HOA living. The board makes decisions about maintenance and repair of the common areas so members don’t have to worry about it.

2. There is no “us” and “them” – only “us.” The HOA is you, and you are the HOA.

3. HOAs are no better than the people governing them. If you don’t like how the HOA is running, learn how to do it properly, and better, and then run for the board.

4. HOA vendors, including the manager, answer to the board of directors. Report concerns to management, and let them handle things.

Property

5. In condominiums, the common area is often more than just the HOA common grounds – it often includes unit walls, floors, and ceilings. Check with the HOA before cutting into any of those areas.

6. The exclusive use common area is yours to use exclusively, but it is still controlled by the HOA.

Enforcement

7. The governing documents are important. They should be carefully reviewed BEFORE someone buys into an HOA because they can greatly affect how you live there.

8. Remember that rule enforcement is a two-way street. Many want the HOA to rein in un-neighborly behavior by others but then become upset if THEY are taken to task for such behavior.

9. It’s NEVER better to ask forgiveness than permission. Bulldozing ahead and waiting for somebody to object is bad for neighborly relationships, and keeps attorneys busy.

10.Don’t assume that because you are not aware of HOA enforcement actions, they aren’t happening.

Relationships

11. You are an observer, not a participant, in board meetings. Other than open forum time, let the board deliberate. They’re legally responsible for the decisions, not you.

12. Before making accusations or assumptions about a board decision, ask some questions. Remember, they usually have far more information.

13. Occasional disagreement with your board or neighbor is to be expected – but it’s never okay to be insulting. Civility is a two-way street. These are your neighbors, so don’t threaten, communicate.

Financial

14. Assessments should naturally increase somewhat each year – don’t be angry at the board or manager because homeownership costs go up.

15. Sending money to the HOA’s reserve account is not an expense, but offsets the continuing normal deterioration of major components, which is an unliquidated financial liability.

16. Never withhold assessments due to protest or a disagreement with the HOA. The law doesn’t allow for that – Civil Code 5658 allows one to pay under protest and then pursue a refund. The consequences of refusing to pay can include collection charges and a possible lien on your property.

Resources

17. There is only one official website for the Davis-Stirling Act (or any California law)- www.leginfo.legislature.ca.gov. Any other site is from a law firm, other HOA service provider, or interested organization -and is not approved by the State of California.

18. There is an international source of education for volunteer leaders – the Community Associations Institute. It has Chapters throughout the world, and eight in California. Check with a local Chapter for governance education. Find them at www.caionline.org.

Kelly G. Richardson CCAL is a Fellow of the College of Community Association Lawyers and Partner of Richardson Ober LLP, a California law firm known for community association advice. Send column questions to Kelly@roattorneys.com.