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(there is a question about home owners associations for condo communities here, so this is a) not a duplicate and b) fit for this website)

In most contexts where I hear about a home owners association, it is in the pejorative, after a home owner tried to do something seemingly benign to their property (ex. "I tried to install a garden gnome/fence/certain roofing type and the HOA said I couldn't, those fascists")

growing up I have seen some arbitrary decisions by home owners associations, such as neighborhood expansions only to decide something else later

and my question is, what is the HOA preventing or doing? I'm assuming the intent is something positive. Is it more strictly financial (collective property values). If they were not there enforcing their anti-garden gnome statute, do neighbors have a tendency to do ridiculous modifications to their property (my experience going around cookie cutter American neighborhoods is a trend towards no)

I've seen the wiki pages, but I'm still not sure. Aside from home owners not reading contracts putting them in the jurisdiction of a home owners association, why would one seek to live in a place that didn't have one or why would they specifically look for a place managed by one

I'm asking for pros and cons that are also best answered by what the HOA is actually doing or trying to prevent.

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4 Answers 4

up vote 10 down vote accepted

Some examples where an HOA is a positive thing:

1) Amenities: Maybe it is professionally maintained landscaping at the front of the subdivision, or a playground, or community pool. An HOA provides a convenient way to have things like that and share the costs among all the people who benefit.

2) Legal Advocacy: I live in a neighborhood (rural) without an HOA. My neighbor decided to start an auto-repair shop on his property which was CLEARLY a violation of the covenants. There isn't really a Government body you can report them to that will swoop in and make them stop a neighbor from destroying your property values even if they signed an agreement when they bought it to the contrary. You need to hire a lawyer and sue them and that costs money and time. Also, in many cases if you wait too long they can get an exception grandfathered in because no one raised an issue about it. An HOA exists to watch for this kind of thing and nip it in the bud rather than making homeowners have to hassle with the time/expense.

3) Independence: Assuming no HOA, and assuming you are okay with suing your neighbor over violating a covenant. That makes for a very uncomfortable situation between you and that neighbor. Having a neutral 3rd party take action on your behalf anonymously can greatly help that situation.

It's not all about making people ditch their basketball goals, or garden gnomes. They also protect you from other obnoxious stuff like junky mobile homes in high-end neighborhoods, the guy who blocks half the street permanently with his RV/Boat parked on the curb, three foot tall grass that is an eyesore and a fire hazard, a taco stand opening in your neighbors garage, etc.

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+1. Note that your point #2 may be mitigated by other law depending on where the property is. In some areas people can and do report illegal property use to, e.g., a zoning board, and local agencies can and do force property owners to remove unpermitted structures, etc., although rural areas are less likely to have restrictive zoning like that. –  BrenBarn Aug 24 at 4:03

At its best, a HOA provides the same benefits as a condo association -- shared investment in the shared neighborhood resources/environment.

At its worst, a HOA has the same problems as a condo association, potentially creating unreasonable constraints on what you can or can't do with your own property because your decisions might affect the value of someone else's property or demanding shared investment in something you don't consider worthwhile.

Basically, if an HOA is active in your neighborhood, (A) make sure you know its history and biases before you buy, and (B) make sure you're active in it, or you may be unpleasantly surprised by its decisions.

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what a hassle, thanks! –  CQM Aug 24 at 15:08

I think it depends a lot on your idea of how you should relate to your neighbors.

Personally, I think that I should be allowed to do just about whatever I want with my property, and I grant my neighbor the same right. If my neighbor wants to paint his house purple with orange stripes and fill his front lawn with pink flamingos, I think that's his right. If I don't like it, I don't have to look at his house. (I would draw the line at things that I cannot avoid by simply looking the other way, like running jet engines in his back yard at 2 in the morning, as I could not avoid the noise. Or dumping toxic waste on the street, as it will cause health problems. Etc.)

Others think it IS their business what their neighbor does with his property and want to be able to control it. They want someone who has the authority to force everyone in the neighborhood to paint their house in colors deemed acceptable, to meet certain requirements for yard work. And that's what Home Owners Associations are for: to require that everyone in the neighborhood maintain their property according to a standard set by the HOA, which should theoretically represent the wishes of the majority. Of course the price you pay for giving you the right to tell your neighbor what kind of fence he is allowed to have is that now your neighbors can tell you what kind of fence you can have.

Advocates of HOAs often say that they are necessary to protect property values. Personally I think this is something of a circular argument: I must have the right to prevent my neighbor from doing something that, in my opinion, makes his house ugly, not because I necessarily have no choice but to stare out my window at his house all day and be repulsed by it, but because someday I may want to sell my house to someone who will have no choice but to stare out the window at his house all day and be repulsed by it and so will not want to buy my house. Of course if we all just minded our own business, this wouldn't be an issue.

Okay, this was pretty much an anti-HOA post, but I did TRY to state the other side of it.

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As I understand it the basic premiss of a HOA is to ease communication between neighbors and help work towards common community goals. As I understand it the reality is that the HOA works to keep the community homogenous so there are no "sore thumb" neighbors.

As to why look for one or avoid one. If you would want a uniform image out of your neighbors and don't mind towing the party line, then they are for you. If you don't care about what your neighbors do with their property (within civic ordinance) and would like freedom to do things different from your neighbors (paint your house blue, hang a clothes line, increase the size of your flower beds), then they are to be avoided.

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