Whether you are buying a home or renting a condo, there are good chances that you might live somewhere with a Homeowners Association (HOA). While some people hate HOAs, there are benefits – they are (in theory) looking out for what is best for the neighborhood. We have now lived in 2 places with HOAs and have finally figured out a plan for dealing with them both on a regular basis and when problems arise.
How to Avoid Problems with the HOA:
- Read the rules & do your best to follow them. When you moved in, you were probably required to sign the rules. Did you read them? Probably not. It’s in your best interest to at least skim them, however, so you aren’t blindsided. If you choose to blatantly break a rule, go for it (and see below for our advice), but it’s better to know what the rules are either way.
- Pick your battles. No one likes the guy who has a problem with everything. If you pop up at every meeting with a different problem, you’re going to be like the boy who cried wolf – no one will take you seriously. Try to pick one issue or topic to lead with for maximum effect.
- Try to avoid complaining to the board. If you have a problem with a neighbor, just talk to them about it. Or leave an anonymous note if you’re scared. Don’t go to the board unless it’s a problem that you can’t solve on your own, or they will think you are annoying and naggy (see above). This does not apply to issues with common areas or neighborhood facilities.
- Go to the meetings. I know, how annoying, how boring, yada yada. But, at the meetings, you will really hear what is going on. You will see who is in charge and can really pick up the dynamic of the board.
- Make friends with someone on the board. The next best thing to being on the board yourself. You get the inside scoop and often get a heads up before something goes down. Plus, it’s always good to have someone on the inside on your side.
How to Handle Problems (Once You Have Them) with the HOA:
- Approach the friendliest member first. If you followed my above advice, you made at least one friend on the board. Now is when you use that relationship. Oh I needed approval for that fence? You know I respect you buddy, that was just a mistake!
- Plead ignorance. Now hopefully you actually read the HOA covenants as I suggested and you knew that you were willfully breaking a rule. They don’t know that, and they probably assume that you didn’t read the rules, or at least didn’t remember them. It’s a lot easier to forgive someone who accidentally broke a rule than willfully did it. I have actually gotten a fine waived to a warning just by acting like I didn’t know and being nice about it. The only thing with this one is that you can’t get away with it twice.
- Apologize. Yeah, it sucks, but just saying “sorry about that!” will get you far.
- Try to be nice. Name calling (to their face) won’t get you far. Remember, in this sad twisted situation, they hold the power. Yes, you pay dues, and that gets you one vote out of however many people in your neighborhood. They probably hold the proxy and get to cast many votes.
- Consider running for the HOA. In both of the places that we have lived they have literally begged people to sign up. If you have a strong opinion, put yourself in a position to actually make a change.
Do you have any more advice for handling an HOA?