How to keep off the HOA's lawn?
July 31, 2009 1:30 PM   Subscribe

Advice for renting a townhouse that's part of a HOA?

I and three others are renting a beautiful townhouse that is (unfortunately) part of a homeowners' association. Probably a big mistake, but what's done is done. Recently, we had a minor run-in with a neighbor who is on the board, about parking spaces. We've got 4 cars and 1 assigned parking space. Since there's always plenty of room in the unassigned spots, we've been parking in those, but apparently (according to the board) each household gets "1.5 parking spots". Not entirely sure what that means, but we've moved the rest of our cars out to park on the street, so it's not that big a deal. We've picked up from various neighbors and our landlord that the HOA board is less-than-pleased about our unit being rented, and they just plain dislike the landlord.

I'm looking for what I should expect while we live here. What do we (legally/socially) owe to the HOA? What are they obligated to do for us? I'm aware that we have no right to attend meetings, but I kind of doubt that they send the minutes to our landlord (who lives out of state). What's the best way for us to go about getting a copy of meeting minutes? I also welcome any tips for surviving in a situation where the HOA probably doesn't want you there.

Additional information:

-The four of us are in our early-mid twenties. We're two long-term but unmarried couples, and are hardly the "college kid" types. Two of us are working full-time 9-to-5 jobs. The rest of the units in the HOA are upper-middle-class couples or young families.

-The landlord pays the HOA fees, but as mentioned above, lives out of state.

-We're in Virginia (Fairfax County).
posted by specialagentwebb to Law & Government (4 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Google the name of your HOA or development, the HOA agreement may be online. Or get a copy of the HOA agreement from your landlord. You should definitely have a copy of it, because it outlines the things for which you can be fined/hassled. You probably have various obligations regarding how your yard is kept, trash, shoveling, etc. If your landlord is a flake, s/he may not have told you about everything.

As far as good will, you could talk to neighbors, try to find the players on the board, go over and make nice, shake hands, "here's our phone number, we're happy to help out with HOA events" type thing. Just make a show of being upstanding, up-front kind of neighbors, rather than no-eye-contact, transitory neighbors who have no stake in anything. (Of course, they may be crazy and unfriendly, but you lose nothing by trying.)
posted by LobsterMitten at 1:44 PM on July 31, 2009

I speak as someone who lives in a condo building. We own, but there are some units that are rented out by their owners. You're working against a stereotype here, really -- one that renters are less likely to respect the property, common areas, and neighbors than those who have a financial stake in the property.

Legally, you need to make sure you understand the association's rules and ensure that the landlord has given you a copy of the association documentation. Imagine you're in an apartment complex where there are rules, but the majority of them are decided and voted upon by the tenants. Unfortunately, you're not legally the tenant, so you need to convey concerns to your landlord and then hope that he is represented at the HOA meetings. If there is a company hired by the association to maintain the grounds and take care of issues that may come up (lawn care, common plumbing or structures) then you may need their contact information and the knowledge of what issues to bring to their attention.

Above all, be courteous, friendly, and abide by the easy ground rules. I'd rather have a good rental neighbor than a noisy owner neighbor, and I'd imagine those in your area would agree.
posted by mikeh at 1:44 PM on July 31, 2009

Since your landlord, the owner, is on the hook should you make any bad moves it is in his interest for you to have all the information any other resident, renter or owner has. Are the minutes e-mailed? Get the owner to copy them to you, print them out and make a file.
Track any communication from the board to you and make notes, dates, who said what, and for the best outcome do the best acting possible to please these nit wits, they have the upper hand and could delay fixing common area issues that effect you for a long time and still be pretty much untouchable. Be aware of the fact that renters before you have likely caused issues and people have long memories.
posted by Freedomboy at 3:27 PM on July 31, 2009

Best answer: Legally, you need to make sure you understand the association's rules and ensure that the landlord has given you a copy of the association documentation.

This. We were previously renting a townhouse in a HOA community (also in fairfax county) and just knowing the rules saved us untold grief, especially since our HOA was kinda tetchy.

But as the owner of the property, it's really the landlord's responsibility to deal with the HOA on most things. You don't owe them anything other than following the rules and generally being polite neighbors, and they don't owe you anything as renters.

What they owe the UNIT, if you'll pardon the distinction, is timely notification of HOA events that impact the community (e.g. "the parking lot is being repaved next week, so everyone will need to make alternate parking arrangements starting at 7am monday..."). Our HOA was good about distributing that kind of info to every house directly, rather than via HOA meetings or some secret HOA listserv or something. If you find that you're not getting critical info because you're renters, then the landlord needs to weigh in with them and make that happen.

The bottom line is, if HOA fees are being paid for that unit, then whoever is occupying that unit has certain responsibilities (don't park 4 cars here), and also certain rights (to be notified of that they're repaving the parking lot before towing your car). As you noted, that doesn't get you a ticket to the meetings, because you're not an owner, but ultimately the owner has the right to rent the property to you, even if the HOA doesn't like him, or you. As long as you're being good neighbors and following the rules, they will have to suck it up. Which leads to the best social advice I ever got (from my dear ol' mom...), "Kill 'em with kindness."
posted by somanyamys at 5:04 PM on July 31, 2009

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