How can I purchase a home and not participate in the HOA?
January 13, 2009 9:04 AM   Subscribe

I'm considering purchasing a house, but I don't want to be a member of a Home Owners Association (HOA). Is there any way to purchase a home that is currently in a Home Owners Association, but not become part of it?

Here is some information that I think is relevant:
-I'm considering purchasing a home, not a condo or a townhouse.
-I live in Utah.
-My wife and I always keep our yard looking nice.

Let me start by stating that this question isn't based on a distaste for HOA fees. I would gladly pay maintenance fees that would pay to maintain community areas. I have a strong distaste for HOAs in general. I can't stand the idea of purchasing a house with my hard earned money and then having an HOA tell me that my flowers are not the correct color, or that I can't change my tire on my car in my driveway (both are real examples that happened to friends of mine).

Call me a community Libertarian, but I think I should be able do what I want with my property as long as I am not damaging other people's property, or disrupting the community.

Do I actually have to sign the HOA contract when I purchase the house?
posted by HC Foo to Home & Garden (37 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
Generally, yes, you must join the HOA. The HOA is formed by what's known as "covenants, codes and restrictions" (CC&R) that are attached to the deed of the property. As long as you sign the deed (which you must to obtain ownership), you are bound by these covenants. There is no practical way to remove them, so if you dislike a mandatory HOA, do not buy the property regardless of what anyone may tell you prior to closing.
posted by fireoyster at 9:09 AM on January 13, 2009


You have to abide by the covenants that apply the entire neighborhood.

Now, you can go before the board and ask for a variance on a particular issue if it is important to you.

The convenants and restrictions vary from neighborhood to neighborhood, and most neighborhood web sites have them online these days. Perhaps you should pick a neighborhood that you could live with first, and then look for houses within that neighborhood?
posted by Ostara at 9:17 AM on January 13, 2009


I'm not familiar with Utah, but certainly it's not ALL homeowners associations out there? Buy outside of an Association. Not all HOA are the same from my research and experience.

Our townhouse is part of a HOA association. Small scale complex. Self managed by Trustee owners. Loose as far as nit-picky regulations (we're okay if you want to beautify with flowers!)

Anyway, a couple years into our ownership, I became frustrated and ended up becoming a Trustee, so I get both sides of the argument, big time. However, when neighbors start slacking in their responsibilities (I'm talking about owners "fixing" a broken storm door by tying it to a railing - not flower choices), you start to appreciate the power of the association.

Some associations are ridiculous in how stringent they are, but you do get a copy of the CCRs during the purchase process and many associations have websites now so you can see what the Trustees are up to and how business is conducted to get a better idea of how life is there.
posted by jerseygirl at 9:26 AM on January 13, 2009


Many HOAs have few restrictive rules, or none, and exist mainly to take care of some shared services you can't do without, like plowing the roads in winter, or maintaining the septic system.
posted by beagle at 9:29 AM on January 13, 2009


Look for an older home. Usually old neighborhoods don't have HOAs or have relaxed covenants (some set renewal dates after 20 or 25 years).
posted by mattbucher at 9:30 AM on January 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


There's pretty much zero chance you're going to be able to get a house within the oversight of an HOA without becoming subject to the HOA. However, not all HOAs are created equal; I would suggest knocking on a few doors to get people's perception of their HOA and then looking up legal actions by and against the HOA in public records.
posted by mattholomew at 9:33 AM on January 13, 2009


Talk to people in the neighborhood. Find out if the HOA is helpful, annoying, non-effective or totalitarian in nature. This mostly has to do with the actual HOA board members and how much of a life they have otherwise.

Find out who the HOA "rabble-rouser" is (if there is one) and find out whether they're upset about not being able to have 9 rusty cars in their front yard, or not being able to install a slightly non-spec garage door.

HOAs range from awesome to marginally effective to annoying to hell on earth. Find out which kind you are considering buying in to. A HOA in and of itself is no reason to bail out of a house you like are would consider buying. A HOA with finicky busybodies who bring rulers to check your lawn definitely is!
posted by Aquaman at 9:37 AM on January 13, 2009


I was under the belief that HOAs only existed in gated communities, condos, and tract developments.

When I was house hunting, I was looking at 'regular', detached houses, none of which belonged to an HOA. I highly doubt there is a single HOA in my whole town. I also cannot think of a single friend, relative who owns a home with a HOA, so I would imagine it is more the exception than the rule.

Do be aware of your cities zoning laws, though, as that is something you will have to conform to.
posted by Vaike at 9:39 AM on January 13, 2009


"Many HOAs [...] exist mainly to take care of some shared services [like] plowing the roads in winter, or maintaining the septic system."

I don't mean to hijack, but isn't that what municipalities are for?
posted by onshi at 9:54 AM on January 13, 2009


We've owned several homes over the years with HOA's. I felt like you do before I was in one...But I've never found them to be more more invasive than beneficial.

YMMV. Years ago, we lived in a very small community governed by a fascist HOA. The experience was Orwellian. Within two years, 35% of homeowners had moved out, put their homes up for sale, or rented to others.

I'll never live in an HOA-run community again. But if, in your case, you adore a particular home in an HOA community, interview as many current residents about the HOA as possible. And if possible, speak to former residents as well. They may be evacuees.
posted by terranova at 9:57 AM on January 13, 2009


-I'm considering purchasing a home, not a condo or a townhouse.

For future reference, what you're describing is a "detached single-family dwelling." All of those are "homes."

And it is unlikely that you would be able to escape from the HOA if the property you buy is burdened by the applicable covenants; they are designed to be legally enforceable.
posted by rkent at 10:06 AM on January 13, 2009


I don't mean to hijack, but isn't that what municipalities are for?

A town isn't going to plow a private parking lot or take care of sidewalk shoveling.
posted by jerseygirl at 10:07 AM on January 13, 2009


What is the possibility of a great HOA turning into a bad HOA? I've heard that the by-laws change at times.
posted by HC Foo at 10:15 AM on January 13, 2009


I also cannot think of a single friend, relative who owns a home with a HOA, so I would imagine it is more the exception than the rule.

More likely it's very locale dependent, like almost all things to do with housing. Like you say it's only in tract housing, but in a lot of the western cities that have grown massively recently, that's most of the housing. There is no nice little neighborhood of houses from the 1950's.
posted by smackfu at 10:20 AM on January 13, 2009


I think I should be able do what I want with my property

Don´t buy property that will be in an HOA then. In the past someone did what they wanted with that property, and what they wanted was to write provisions into the deed/CCR that would apply to all future owners. You have the choice to buy something else if you don´t want to be bound by those conditions.
posted by yohko at 10:20 AM on January 13, 2009


I'd say from my research, about 75% of the 2004 and newer homes in the area I'm looking at, have HOAs.
posted by HC Foo at 10:22 AM on January 13, 2009


What is the possibility of a great HOA turning into a bad HOA? I've heard that the by-laws change at times.

This is up to you. You have to stay active and be the oversight of the HOA, it is not a passive experience.

The real estate section of many papers have a HOA column. I would suggest reading a few of them to get an idea of where your responsibilities lie.
posted by Vaike at 10:22 AM on January 13, 2009


@ jerseygirl: Many cities do clear sidewalks, though I appreciate that this would be rare the in U.S... but why would a tract of detached single-family dwellings have a private parking lot? Or is the case that many HOA'd developments are created on the understanding that roads, utilities, parks, etc., are to be entirely out of the municipality's hands? Aside from mumstheword's observation about maintaining property value, what benefits do HOAs offer owners to outweigh the regulatory burden or risk, mentioned above of a good-to-bad scenario?

I come by these questions honestly, as 'gated communities' and such are rare where I live.
posted by onshi at 10:23 AM on January 13, 2009


Here in the DC area, almost every home under 20 years old or so is in an HOA. It can cover anything from private streets to paint color, but vary widely. You have to find out what is covered and how it is managed. While everyone wants their home to be fully in their own control, everyone also wants to be assured their neighbor doesn't start storing his 15 tow trucks in his front yard or on the street. In my experience, the few that are notoriously picky are well known, and the multitude that are reasonable and responsible are never mentioned. It's a case of confirmation bias. Your friends are never going to mention their HOA that is running smoothly, but the 1 in a 100 that have someone fined for using an unapproved shade of white get a lot of press.
posted by juggler at 10:40 AM on January 13, 2009


While everyone wants their home to be fully in their own control, everyone also wants to be assured their neighbor doesn't start storing his 15 tow trucks in his front yard or on the street.

Yes, but many cities (including the one I'm considering) have city laws and ordinances against this type of behavior. Thus, negating the need for this to be controlled by the HOA.
posted by HC Foo at 10:48 AM on January 13, 2009


I think I should be able do what I want with my property

Me too. That's why I painted my house gold, green and fuchsia. Also, I take up all the on street parking, but I move the cars daily as required by the city. Plus, I like to host a daily garage sale in my driveway.

It's not you; it's not 99% of reasonable home owners. It's the occasional person who makes decisions with their property that diminish the property values of their neighborhood. HOA's can also mediate when there are 2 reasonable requests. Let's say that I want to put up a tool shed on my property that will block your view of the lake. You can sue me or we can go to the HOA.

Not all HOA's a good or even decent. However, my last one was very good - they kept the shared facilities well maintained and attractive. They took care of overall insurance and overall landscaping. They dealt with safety issues. Other than that, they didn't hassle anyone.

Last point, I've never lived anywhere where the HOA wasn't looking for volunteers to serve on committees. If your HOA is bad, infiltrate and conquer.
posted by 26.2 at 10:51 AM on January 13, 2009


why would a tract of detached single-family dwellings have a private parking lot?

If the Association has a clubhouse, they very well could have a parking lot. Driveways need to be plowed. Walkways need to be shoveled. Centralized/shared areas like mailbox pads would need clearing.

Or is the case that many HOA'd developments are created on the understanding that roads, utilities, parks, etc., are to be entirely out of the municipality's hands?

That's very much a part of it, as well. Part of the road and cul-de-sac leading up to our complex is considered private property and the town will not touch it.

What is the possibility of a great HOA turning into a bad HOA? I've heard that the by-laws change at times.

Bylaws need to adapt with the times, so yes, they can (and really should) change. It will be stated in your CCRs that you need a certain percentage of owner approval for the change in order to have it pass and be recorded with the county offices.

I really invite anyone in a HOA to join their Trustees and/or be active in their association.
posted by jerseygirl at 10:51 AM on January 13, 2009


Perhaps that was a weak example. Does the city have any way of stopping your neighbor, whose house may be only a few feet from yours, from painting it top to bottom in candy-stripes? Will the city replant the dead shrubs that landscape the entrance to the neighborhood? My point is that they have some validity, but certainly can be abused. It's all in each HOA's details and execution.
posted by juggler at 10:58 AM on January 13, 2009


What is the possibility of a great HOA turning into a bad HOA? I've heard that the by-laws change at times.

This totally depends on the personalities, politics, and neighborhood dynamics. As with any group of people who are required to work together (and within which there is some sort of power structure), problems will develop over time.

Outside of that, one thing to be aware of is that it's standard practice in new developments for the HOA to be run by the development company. There'll a provision in the CCRs that the development company will operate the HOA and will have a certain number of seats on the board for a specified period of time -- usually 2 to 3 years. This allows them to control the look and feel of the neighborhood while they work to get occupancy up to 100%. After the specified period of time, development company representatives will no longer serve on the board, and it will be populated solely by residents.

This can be a good transition or a bad transition, but it's usually MORE of a transition than routine elections farther down the line.

Your specific question has been answered: You cannot opt out of an HOAs CC&Rs or fees if you buy a house within its jurisdiction. I think you're wise to avoid HOAs entirely, if you can. I've done some reporting on them, and they can definitely be drama magnets. Not to mention, your actions are hampered by your neighbors' opinions, and that can be a really stifling way to live.

Unfortunately, in CA at least, I think it's up to over 80% of housing developments that are subject to HOAs rules and restrictions. They're even getting more popular in older developments.
posted by mudpuppie at 11:39 AM on January 13, 2009


Does the city have any way of stopping your neighbor, whose house may be only a few feet from yours, from painting it top to bottom in candy-stripes?

Honestly, if they want to paint their house with candy-stripes I think that they should be able to. It is their house. Owning property must mean more than just having the ability to use the property. My complaint with HOAs is almost purely principle based (again, I'm like a Libertarian on this issue). Can't people own property anymore without having to either tell people how to manage their property (IE get involved with the HOA), or having someone tell them how to manage my own property (living in the HOA)?

If I own my property, I want to be able to own it properly.
posted by HC Foo at 12:22 PM on January 13, 2009


And if your neighbor wanted to paint his house and windows black, with silver satanic symbols over the exterior, making it impossible to sell your nice 3-bedroom house next door, you'd still support the property owner's right to do whatever with his or her property?

Reasonable limitations are what civilization is built upon.
posted by Aquaman at 12:41 PM on January 13, 2009


Reasonable limitations are what civilization is built upon.

I agree. But I do think that people have differing opinions on what reasonable limitations are. When HOAs can create new bylaws quite simply (usually a majority vote of attending members), often times unreasonable restrictions can be placed on people without much of an ability to dispute the change in bylaws.

I also think that my odds of having a bad experience with an HOA are higher than having a neighbor paint satanic symbols on their house.
posted by HC Foo at 12:53 PM on January 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


If I own my property, I want to be able to own it properly.

Then don't buy a house in an area governed by an HOA. The covenants are binding, and you can't opt out.
posted by rtha at 1:01 PM on January 13, 2009 [2 favorites]


You've made a decision and you are asking other people to validate it.
posted by 26.2 at 1:13 PM on January 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


There's an easier way to go about this than debating candy-striped houses. The Realtor will have a copy of the HOA contract. Read it through with a fine toothed comb. If it only pertains to maintenance issues, and there is a good system for addressing changes, then you're fine. If it details that the grass must be kept at 1 - 1 1/2 inches and only shades of white or beige are allowed for paint, then run far, far away.
posted by saffry at 2:52 PM on January 13, 2009


"That's why I painted my house gold, green and fuchsia."

Ha! I live in that neighborhood. (I realize the statement was sarcastic, but I love the blue, pink & yellow house around the corner with the gigantic painted flowers. Our across-the-street neighbors have turned their front yard into all vegetable garden, and we may do the same. "Free piles" are a vital part of the neighborhood economy. I <3>
If this sort of thing is important to you philosophically, then it sounds like you need to be looking in older neighborhoods. It may limit your choices of house, but if you're going to live in a place for a long time, better that you're happy with all the aspects of your decision.
posted by epersonae at 3:24 PM on January 13, 2009


That should've been "I ::heart:: Olympia."
posted by epersonae at 3:24 PM on January 13, 2009


I was under the belief that HOAs only existed in gated communities, condos, and tract developments.

HOAs became popular with the last few building booms. Usually in formerly rural areas. The municipality (if there is one) doesn't want to be bothered with maintaining dog walking parks and planting flowers at the development entrance/boulevard, or even with things like snow plowing the streets and garbage pickup. They will begrudgingly accept your tax dollars, but they don't want to do anything for it. And/or, they are busy trying to build schools and jails for the new community members. So they say "you build whatever you want, but you have to maintain it." So a HOA gets formed so the builder can show how low the taxes are and how wonderful life is in Creekwood Estates. Never mind the $100 a month you have to fork over to your neighbors.

Advice- don't buy into a community with a HOA. Also, many communities have their own HOA-like laws that you might have to follow, like no overnight parking on the street or no clotheslines or even paint schemes.
posted by gjc at 5:11 PM on January 13, 2009


There's an easier way to go about this than debating candy-striped houses. The Realtor will have a copy of the HOA contract. Read it through with a fine toothed comb.

A cursory review of the CC&Rs won't give you insight into the HOA culture. There are some HOA's that enforce their rules like gleeful despots. There are others that are cash-strapped, mismanaged anarchists.

At my former fascist HOA community, the board (composed entirely of retirees) met monthly to invent new rules and fines. Some were strangely creative (demanding backyard inspections of select homeowners' trees that appeared "large when viewed from the street"); others were nuisance (fining homeowners who parked briefly in visitor spots, even to drop off disabled individuals closer to their residences).

The board issued intricate instructions about how to close HOA dumpster gates, and warned that violators who did not fully click the latch would be fined and could lose their rights to place garbage in the dumpsters. Air conditioners were banned (in Southern California!) because they were loud and offensive.

There was always a moving van at the entrance of the development, for people were continually moving out. When it was our turn to evacuate, the board president issued our moving truck driver a schedule requiring his crew to finish the loading job in exactly three hours (for she was timing the job from her living room window), else she would phone the fire department. The mover called her all the names I'd wanted to call her since I first got there.

So ask around. Don't become slave to a Nasty Old HOA.
posted by terranova at 7:56 PM on January 13, 2009


It really comes down to how tightly regulations are enforced. I understand your desire not to be told what to do with your property, but the basic function of the HOA in my neighborhood is to keep the rednecks from parking boats on their front lawns and to force people to cut their grass once in a while. That all goes to maintaining property values, which should interest you, as you're buying in. What you need is someone who lives in the neighborhood who can give you intel on how strictly policies are enforced (and which ones are enforced). HOA rules can look fairly fascist on paper but not be so in actual practice.
posted by wheat at 9:28 PM on January 13, 2009


Yes, there are laws on the books against having 10 rusting cars on your lawn, or having refrigerators and deep freezes left outside with the lids/doors still on, or having people living in your unconverted garage, or running a pit bull puppy mill in your back yard. The problem is that code enforcement may or may not have the time or energy to take care of the situation. Or the money, if the economy in the area is on the skids and the tax base has shrunk. Sometimes, it's easier to deal with things between neighbours, than constantly calling someone in a uniform to enforce some common sense and decency.

If someone applied for a zoning change for a neighbourhood, I'd rather have an HOA already in place to organise the fight against it than be without. But that's just me...

But yes, it's your house. If the idea of joining a HOA annoys you, then don't buy into a neighbourhood with one in place. And hey, if you don't want the HOA to turn awful and petty, why not become active in it to stop just that very thing from happening?
posted by Grrlscout at 12:18 AM on January 14, 2009


The problem is that code enforcement may or may not have the time or energy to take care of the situation

And to be honest, I've seen similar complaints about code enforcement agencies as what I've seen here about HOA. Hassling people about little things that "no one cares about".
posted by smackfu at 8:16 AM on January 14, 2009


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