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What To Expect Before Joining A Homeowner Association

Whether you're in the market for a townhouse in San Francisco or a condo in Miami, one thing is for certain: You will be part of a homeowner association when you buy a unit.

According to the Community Associations Institute, an estimated 62.3 million people live in homeowner associations throughout the U.S. While homeowner associations offer amenities for members and can take care of maintenance repairs and lawn care, they do come with a list of rules and regulations. While every association has its own unique policies that all residents must follow, you can expect some guidelines on subjects like pets, parking and exterior maintenance.

Before signing on the dotted line to purchase that condo or townhouse of your dreams, Vickie Arcuri, a realtor with EWM Realty in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, advises potential buyers to ask their realtors about the association.

"Ask your realtor if you can see a copy of the rules and regulations if you're interested in purchasing a unit. You want to get an idea of the rules to see if you can live with them," Arcuri says. In addition, ask where members can find current copies of the association's policies. For example, many associations maintain websites that publish the latest version of current policies and also post when the next board meeting is scheduled.

Arcuri also advises buyers to ask what the monthly association fee covers, stating that some associations offer amenities like pools and concierge services. Buyers should find out if the association has any pending assessments or repairs.

"If you have a pet, you should definitely check to see if he or she is allowed. If you can't bring your pet, then that association isn't right for you," she says.

Finally, ask how to resolve any issues that come up, such as whom to contact for repairs.

While you don't need to memorize your association's rules, the following is a list of potential rules that you might need to follow.

  • Find out the rules on landscaping. For homeowners with a patch of land, the associations might have rules regarding grass length, if lawn sculptures are allowed and the types of plants and bushes allowed on the property.
  • See if Fido or Fluffy is permitted. If your association allows pets, there might be restrictions on the size of the pet as well as the limit on how many pets you can own. Other restrictions may include where pets can be walked.
  • Check the rules before building up or out. Want to build a family room off your kitchen or build up in your home with another story? Check with your association before calling the construction crew. In addition to getting approval from your local government authorities, many associations require approval of plans like adding on to the existing structure. These rules can also extend to building exterior structures, like a deck or gazebo.
  • Get fenced in. While a tall fence around your property might sound appealing, check your association's rules and regulations first for any restrictions regarding fence height, color or material.
  • Paint away. Certain associations have restrictions regarding paint color as well as the type of materials used in the exterior of a home. For example, if you wish to remove the vinyl siding in your home and replace it with cedar shingles, get a copy of your plans together and submit it to your association for approval.
  • Park your car in the right spot. Parking restrictions can be a big issue in an association. According to Arcuri, some associations might have reserved parking in lots, while others might not allow street parking. There may also be restrictions regarding the size and type of vehicle that can park.
  • Keep up with maintenance. While your fence might be in compliance with the association, you can still be in violation of the rules. Some associations have rules regarding home maintenance and homeowners might receive violations if a unit has missing or broken shutters, dead or diseased trees or fences with missing slats. Brush up on what's expected of you to maintain your property.

"The biggest problems people run into in associations is the three pees: parking, pets and people," says Nancy Barké, general manager of Windsor Gardens in Denver, Colorado. Windsor Gardens is an active adult community for those 55 and older with 2,689 units.

"Know where to park, know what kind of pets you are allowed to have and keep your noise down so you don't bother others. If you're living in a townhouse or condo, you're living in close quarters with other people, so everyone really needs to get along," Barké explains. When in doubt, consult your association's latest copy of rules and regulations.

If you have broken a rule, what happens next? Barké explains that at associations like Windsor Gardens, people who break a rule of the association receive a letter explaining the infraction, as well as a copy of the policy in question.

"People get upset and come to the association meetings or the general office. While it's fine to be upset and challenge the violation, don't come in screaming," Barké says. Instead, she advised to follow the procedures stated in the association's rules and regulations for challenging a violation. "Most people don't want to break the rules, so we all have to work together to resolve the issue," she says.

Megan Horst-Hatch is a mother, runner, baker, gardener, knitter, and other words that end in "-er." She loves nothing more than a great cupcake, and writes at I'm a Trader Joe's Fan. Her work can be found at

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