If you’ve never owned a home or lived in a neighborhood or condominium, you may not even think about the homeowners association (HOA) before you make that first purchase.
But don’t be caught off guard by HOA rules and fees, which can be sizable and, sometimes, unexpected. What an HOA could cost you is a significant financial factor to think about before taking on a mortgage payment.
As of 2022, 53% of all homeowners in the U.S. live in an HOA community, according to iPropertyManagement. The average monthly HOA membership fee is $250 for a single-family home, with roughly 4,000 new homeowners associations forming every year.
But it’s not just the HOA fees that surprises some first-time homebuyers. HOAs can also have quite a few rules and regulations regarding your home’s appearance, what you store on your property and so on. Following those rules — like having a specific mailbox — can add up.
So what should you know about common HOA rules before you move in?
First off, let’s cover the basics.
What Is a Homeowners Association (HOA)?
Put simply, a homeowners association is a private organization that makes — and enforces — rules and regulations for residents in a subdivision, condo complex, planned community and so on.
The organization is led by a board of directors composed of residents who live within the community. Residents pay HOA fees, which can be collected monthly, quarterly or annually. Those fees go toward maintaining the building or neighborhood.
Depending on where you live, as well as whether or not you live in a single-family home or a condo complex, an HOA’s rules and regulations can vary widely — so can the fees. You may pay more for a neighborhood with more amenities, like a gated community with a golf course.
HOA fees are just one expense that you should budget for as a homeowner. Here are seven more bills that come with a house.
What Rules and Regulations Can an HOA Make?
HOAs mostly make and enforce rules about how your property can look. You may hear from an HOA volunteer if your yard is overgrown or you have a camper parked in the driveway.
Depending on the HOA, you may need to get approval before making significant changes to your property, too.
Knowing the rules beforehand can help you save money and figure in the potential costs of a decision. That boat could end up costing you more if you have to pay storage on it.
Here are some of the most common HOA rules.
- Structural and design changes
- Outside storage
- Political signs
1. Structural and Design Changes
Anything that changes the exterior appearance of your home is possibly subject to approval by an HOA board. That can range from painting the exterior to adding a deck, installing solar panels or even changing your mailbox.
Another example might be fencing. Let’s say your current property has an older wood fence and you want to replace it with a new wood fence. An HOA board might have changed guidelines over time and updated their fencing standards to wrought iron.
Wrought iron is typically more expensive than wood so you would need to be prepared to spend more money in that situation.
If you’re thinking of recreating the “Christmas Vacation” movie in your front yard, tell Cousin Eddie to hold on one second.
Homeowners associations often have guidelines for holiday decorations. They might tell you how large and spread out your decorations can be, and they also might have guidelines on the length of time you can leave up your decor.
So if you tend to keep Santa in the front yard until it’s time for the Easter Bunny, you might want to check with the HOA first.
Pets? HOAs have opinions on your pets? Really.
Yes, HOAs may restrict the type of pets you can own. That’s why the Tiger King never lived in an HOA community.
They can also, sensibly, restrict where you can take your pets, require your furry ones to be on a leash and make sure you are picking up after them.
4. Outside Storage
You probably can’t just park that RV on the front lawn or maybe even the driveway, if you are part of an HOA. You’ll need to pay for storage offsite.
Or what if you want to build a storage building for your RV or boat on your own property? You’ll likely need to run that through the HOA board members, too.
Some of them have association rules and may even completely prohibit storage structures that aren’t attached to the home.
If you’re part of an HOA, you’ll need to be prepared to mow your own lawn or pay for routine landscaping. Weeds, tall grass and unkempt flower beds are no-go according to most homeowners association rules.
They want the neighborhood to look nice and pretty and will quickly call you out if you let the lawn care go.
Some homeowners associations prohibit rentals in the neighborhood — for reasons related to property values, security or even insurance. Even if long-term rentals are allowed, short-term rentals may not be.
So don’t count on rental income. If you were thinking of renting out your property, you may need written permission from an HOA board first. And, if you are allowed to rent, make sure you follow all of the HOA’s rules related to renting your home.
Not only can HOAs limit you from parking an RV or boat on your property, they can also make regulations related to parking your everyday cars and trucks.
Depending on the width of the road, some may not allow parking on the street or only allow guest parking in designated areas.
Also, if your home routinely looks like you’re having a Super Bowl party — with dozens of vehicles parked outside — you might receive a letter from your friendly HOA board members.
When it comes to how many people can occupy one home, single families with many children are protected under the Fair Housing Act. However, HOAs have a little more freedom when it comes to occupancy outside of families.
The general rule is two occupants per bedroom, but the state law may be different depending on where you live. So if you’re worried about any occupancy restrictions, make sure you check with your HOA.
No surprise here, but a Friday night rock band might be frowned on by your HOA community — not to mention the local authorities and their own noise ordinances.
A dog barking all night might also warrant a note from your HOA board.
10. Political Signs
It’s not uncommon for some HOAs to restrict political signs and messages from being displayed on property within the community. The thought is that these types of signs can be divisive and possibly affect the overall perception of the neighborhood.
Some real estate agents even say political signs can affect home sales and even short-term property values.
What to Know About an HOA Before You Buy
Before you make an offer and move into an HOA community, make sure your real estate agent has received a copy of the HOA bylaws or covenants, conditions and restrictions.
Here are some of the things to research and think about.
- Dues. Do you pay monthly HOA fees or are they quarterly? Also ask how often the fees have changed in the past so you can get a sense of any future expenses.
- Responsibilities. What can a homeowner expect from this HOA board? Governing documents should outline the HOA responsibilities related to common areas, roads, clubhouse, pool and so on.
- Reserves. Find out how much money the HOA has in reserve. If that amount is low, the HOA may issue an assessment or one-time additional fee to its association members when improvements within the neighborhood are required.
- Restrictions. As we’ve laid out, HOAs can have a long list of community rules and guidelines. Make sure you are fully aware of them before you move in.
Robert Bruce is a senior writer for The Penny Hoarder.