A homeowners association has a lot of power to create and enforce rules, to collect dues, and to elect officers to serve the community. However, the homeowners association does not have unlimited power. On the contrary, every HOA or community association is bound by its own governing documents, which set the terms for how the association is run. You can think of these documents as a kind of Constitution, both providing the HOA with its power but also outlining its responsibilities, and circumscribing how that power can be used.
Whether you are a member of the HOA Board of Directors or you’re simply a homeowner, it’s important to know what some of the basic HOA governing documents are. Here’s a general overview.
Four Core HOA Documents
For most HOAs, the governing documents fall into four basic categories: Articles of incorporation; bylaws; covenants, conditions, and restrictions, or CC&Rs; and rules and regulations. Let’s take a closer look at each category.
HOA Articles of Incorporation
This first document is the one that creates the HOA. An HOA may be incorporated by the original developer of the community; or, in some cases, residents of a community may decide to incorporate at a later date. Either way, establishing an HOA requires the community to file these Articles, which are usually very short and provide some bare-bones information about the Association. For example, the Articles may note the community’s name and location, as well as its stated purpose.
This document is needed to create an HOA, but really has very little impact on the ongoing operation of the homeowner association. Frankly, there’s not much reason why homeowners would ever need to review this particular document. Even Board members will find little cause to consult the Articles regularly.
The second type of document is the Association bylaws. The bylaws are usually adopted shortly after the community is formed; in other words, the bylaws come after the Articles of Incorporation are approved.
The bylaws may dictate a number of common rules by which the HOA is run. A few examples of what you might find in the bylaws include:
- Information about voting rights and procedures, including term limits for Board members
- Outline of the basic responsibilities of Board members, such as preparing financial statements
- Details about how to call a meeting and how often meetings must be held
- Rules and regulations for collecting dues and special assessments
- Policies for creating annual budgets and for determining assessment obligations
- Other general operating rules for the HOA and for the Board of Directors
Those who serve in an elected capacity should know the bylaws well, and refer to them regularly. Homeowners should also be familiar with the bylaws, as they dictate the powers of the Association but also the limits on those powers, along with the maintenance responsibilities the Association owes to its members.
A good policy is to ensure that all new members of your HOA are given a copy of the bylaws. You might also wish to have a downloadable copy on a members-only website or digital drive.
Declarations of Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions
The third governing document that homeowners should know about is the CC&Rs. In many ways, this is the most important of all the governing documents, and usually contains the most comprehensive information about how the HOA is to be run. As a rule of thumb, if other documents contradict the CC&Rs, the CC&Rs win out.
Important though this document may be, it’s not necessarily fun to read! The CC&Rs are usually quite lengthy, and will go into a lot of detail about exactly which land is included in the HOA, which parts of the development are considered to be common areas, and more.
Again, it’s wise for all homeowners to have a copy of this document, as it goes into the greatest details about both the restrictions you must live by and the benefits you enjoy as a member of the HOA.
Certainly, it’s important to review this document before buying into an HOA, as the CC&Rs will provide you with details like how often you must mow your lawn, whether or not you can park on the street, where you are or are not allowed to have a satellite dish mounted on your home, etc.
Note that CC&Rs usually contain a procedure for amendments, making it possible to revise this document as needed.
In most places, it is legally mandated to file a copy of the CC&Rs with the county recorder, and to provide a copy to any new homeowners who join the community.
Rules and Regulations
The CC&Rs will furnish the basic rules for life in the HOA. However, the Board also has some discretion to add new rules as needed. These are usually much more narrow and specific in nature, e.g., rules limiting pool hours or prohibiting broken-down cars from being kept in someone’s yard.
The rules and regulations of the HOA should always exist to enhance property values and serve the greater good of the community. That’s not always how they are perceived, though, so it should come as no surprise that this is where most disputes arise. Professional management companies can help ensure your new rules and regulations are prudent, and also mediate any problems that may come up from time to time.
Are HOA Governing Documents Part of the Public Record?
Depending on where you live, it may or may not be legally mandated to make certain documents available to all homeowners. In some instances, it may be acceptable to charge a small processing fee for homeowners who request additional copies of these governing documents.
With any additional questions that relate to these all-important documents, we recommend reaching out to a member of your professional management team. At Kuester Management Group, we are always happy to help our clients develop judicious rules, and to govern their communities fairly and efficiently. We are a top HOA management company serving the Carolinas, specifically Charlotte and Myrtle Beach. Reach out to our team with any questions about running a community association, clarifying property use restrictions, settling legal issues regarding your HOA, or more.