Living in a community managed by a homeowners association (HOA) means that you’re obligated to follow certain rules and regulations. Depending upon your HOA, these rules can be very particular—so particular that you may not even know you’re doing something wrong! And if you disobey your community’s covenants, conditions, and restrictions (CC&Rs), you could get fined.
“Fines are a tool to gain compliance, and it is not uncommon for them to be reduced or waived once compliance is achieved,” says Dawn Bauman, senior vice president, government and public affairs, for the Community Associations Institute in Falls Church, VA. She says some rule violations could yield one-time fines of anywhere from $25 to $100, or daily fines of around $10 per day.
The best way to avoid fines is to stay in the loop with your community. Familiarize yourself with the CC&Rs, read community documents, attend community board meetings, pay attention to community updates, and ask questions when you think you might be in violation.
Curious which requirements tend to trip up homeowners the most? Here are some of the most common HOA rule violations.
1. House design changes
Making any changes to the appearance or structure of your home—such as adding a new mailbox or paint job—requires getting permission from your HOA.
David Berman, an attorney for Barry Miller Law, a business and real estate law firm in Orlando, FL, says the most common violations he hears about involve compliance with architectural design standards and covenants. This includes changes made to the exterior of a home without the association’s approval. Why? A good portion of the rules in most HOA CC&Rs have to do with the appearance of your home.
2. Smoking near neighbors
Other common violations are those that inconvenience other residents at the association, says David Swedelson, a community association attorney and a founding partner of SwedelsonGottlieb in Los Angeles.
“This would include smoking that creates a nuisance, whether it be cigarettes, cigars, or marijuana,” Swedelson says.
Owners may have authorization to use marijuana for medical purposes, but that does not necessarily include the right to smoke in their unit if the smoke affects their neighbors.
HOAs may impose limits on pets in the community, including the number of pets you own; the specific breeds allowed; where pets can be walked; and whether or not they must be kept on a leash.
“We are seeing a lot of owners claim that their dog is a service animal, so they can get around a weight restriction or other rules in the CC&Rs,” says Swedelson.
If you’re a pet owner interested in buying in an HOA community, be sure to ask about the rules on pets. And if you already live in an HOA community and are considering adopting, make sure you’re familiar with the rules on pets before bringing a new four-legged friend home with you.
4. Illegal Rentals
Thinking of renting out your home on Airbnb? Many HOAs require written permission to allow rental of your home, since renters may not be aware of the association rules. Given the popularity of short-term rentals, Swedelson says his firm is increasingly seeing violations surrounding this issue.
Making a little cash on the side is great, but be sure you’re in compliance with your community’s rules before renting out your place.
5. Landscaping, decorations, and other exterior upkeep
Overgrown weeds and lawns are a big no-no in an HOA community. Thinking about adding tall sunflowers to your garden? How about chopping down that huge tree on your front lawn? These are also situations in which you’d need to check with the HOA. Some boards even limit the types of trees and plants that are acceptable and where they can be located on your property.
Most HOAs also prohibit clutter outside your home. This includes outside storage. An HOA may take issue with things like bicycles or kayaks being stored outside in plain sight.
And during the holidays, HOA rules may limit how long before and after a holiday you can decorate the home’s exterior, including the size and type of decoration.
6. Motor Vehicles
Many HOAs have rules on the number and types of vehicles (and boats, RVs, etc.) that can be parked in your driveway or on the street.
Having guests over for a dinner party? You may have to clear guest car parking with the HOA first. The same goes for out-of-town guests who are bringing a car; your HOA may require you to tell them how many days your guests plan on staying.
Most HOAs are strict about putting trash cans out too early or not bringing them in on time. Be careful about bulky items you throw out, such as furniture items or boxes that haven’t been broken down—your board might have a problem with them being left on the curb.