There are many ways to look at this issue. Although HOAs are created to help communities to organize and run more smoothly, much of what HOA compliance comes down to is, “to get along you have to go along,” and frankly, that is usually a pretty easy thing to do given the fact that there are over 50,000 HOA communities in the state of California. But inevitably, conflicts arise, and when they do, it’s important to know your rights, privileges, and responsibilities in when dealing with disagreements with your HOA. The easiest way to do so is by making sure that you are well-versed with your HOA’s rules, as well as your right as a renter or homeowner in California. If there’s one way to live successfully in an HOA, it’s to stay informed.
For one thing, it’s important to keep in mind that nearly every form of community governing body requires its potential residents to review and accept their rules and restrictions prior to renting or buying a property. Much like a User Agreement for a product, an HOA requires approval of its rules before use. For HOAs, the major governing document outlining such rules and guidelines is called the Declaration of Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions, or CC&R, which will cover everything from noise limits to how many flags you can fly on your lawn.
The most important thing to keep in mind regarding HOA rules is that they have two major considerations with the creation and enforcement of each rule: First is to ensure the safety of the community members. Second is to protect property values. Indeed, this is why you’ll hear these overblown stories about HOAs preventing a homeowner from painting their house just a shade or two darker than the current color – it is because these issues can potentially affect the value of your neighbors’ properties, and therefore affect their financial prosperity. It’s a common interest thing. Even so, oftentimes these kinds of issues are rarely the main focus of an HOA. Many residents move in to an HOA-run community without spending the time and effort to familiarize themselves with the rules. Granted, it can be understandably dull to read 20+ pages on what species of bushes you are allowed to plant in your garden, but it’s better to know from the outset than to run into the problem after you spend all Saturday planting them.
Still, it may be difficult to know all of the inter-workings of your HOA system, so, for the sake of providing common sense advice and practices, it’s important to have a few rules of thumb to live by when interacting with your HOA.
If you are personally unfamiliar with a matter, but also take issue with your HOA’s current stance on that issue, many times it is a better strategy to go to a neighbor for help than to go directly to the board. Appealing to the board as a first defense rarely goes well for the resident, as they are fighting against a rule that usually has a precedent, and they are lacking the support from the rest of the community. If you speak with your neighbors about your concerns, they can usually give you a good insight as to how to approach the problem. Sometimes, it’s just a good idea to vent. Sometimes you may come to the realization that you are just annoyed with a rule but do not actually want or need to challenge it. And sometimes, many of your neighbors will share your views, and in that case, you then have the opportunity to organize and take your issue to the HOA board with more robust support from the community.
Many HOA members will actually say that the most effective way to live successfully in your HOA community is to get involved with your HOA community. Attend neighborhood gatherings. Volunteer at events throughout the community. Get to know your neighbors and share your ideas, thoughts, and concerns with them. In reality, the best way to live successfully under an HOA is to not do it alone. The more you engage with other members, the more the seemingly arbitrary rules and regulations begin to make sense.
Finally, the most important rule is also the most obvious: use common sense. This could mean not running on the pool deck. It could mean not installing a 20ft tall inflatable snowman for the holidays. Again, it depends on your community, but just keep in mind that if you engage more with your community, the easier it is to understand the rules, follow them, and ultimately, to live successfully in your HOA.