If you’re in the market to buy a home and are considering a house in a community governed by a homeowners association, also called an HOA, you’ll want to do your research. HOAs can have all sorts of rules and restrictions that can, to put it bluntly, make your life miserable. Or, at the very least, they can make day-to-day living inconvenient.
The best thing to do is to ask for a copy of the HOA’s rules so that you’ll know, in advance, what you might be getting yourself into and if you can live by the regulations. If you want to start prepping now for potential issues, here are 25 of the worst things about homeowners associations that you need to know.
Pet Weight Restrictions
Having an HOA refusing to allow residents to keep an aggressive or dangerous dog breed on their property is understandable, but placing weight restrictions on a pet seems somewhat silly. Russell Volk, a real estate professional with Re/Max Elite in Pennsylvania, related this story regarding some of his clients:
“I was recently working with a couple who was looking to buy a home, and I found them a great house. They put the offer in, it was accepted and then the rules and regulations were ordered from the HOA. When they came in, buyers see that dogs up to 35 pounds are allowed. My buyers have a dog, which they thought was around that weight. HOA requires that every new home buyer sends them a certificate from a vet that proves [the] dog’s weight. My buyers took their dog to the vet and the dog weighed at 35.5 pounds. This certificate was sent to the HOA, and they declined buyers’ acceptance. They just wouldn’t allow it. We tried to reason with them, but according to them, a rule is a rule. They even suggested that they put the dog on a diet.”
Demanding Garage Doors Be Left Open
Imagine being forced to leave your garage door up weekdays from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sure, there are times when having your garage door open is convenient, but what about when you’re away at work? Everything you have stored in your garage will be on display and free for the taking.
One homeowners association in Auburn, California, implemented this rule after finding out a homeowner was allowing people to live in the garage. The HOA assessed a $200 fine to those who didn’t comply with the rule.
If you appreciate the value of planting native plants as part of your landscaping scheme, know that it might not fly with some HOAs. Even though Texas, Florida and California protect a homeowner’s rights to plant environmentally friendly native plants, not all states have such laws in place.
HOA rules regarding parking restrictions aren’t uncommon, but sometimes the rules seem to be contradictory. John Frigo of e-commerce retailer Best Price Nutrition shared his story regarding parking restrictions.
“At this time I had bought a Lincoln Blackwood pickup truck. The truck wasn’t a huge truck, but it was too long to fit in my garage so I would park it in the driveway which was fine,” he said. “Many people on my block parked in their driveways and there wasn’t a rule against doing so. Until one day when I got a letter from the association fining me and telling me I had to park my truck in my garage. Turns out my truck had class B plates and class B plates were not allowed to be parked in driveways.
“I understand the thought behind this rule. They don’t want big ugly work trucks parked in driveways. While I personally could care less if my neighbors did this, I get the spirit behind the law. The enforcement, however, seemed to lack common sense. This truck I had was a $50,000 truck that was a really sharp-looking truck; it wasn’t a blight on the neighborhood. I couldn’t park this truck in my driveway yet my neighbors were allowed to park rusty 30-year-old conversion vans in their driveways with no issue. It’s a complete lack of common sense and a lack of being reasonable and/or accommodating in instances like this that drive me crazy about associations and is why I’ll never buy in an association again.”
Trash Can Time Limits
If an HOA requires you to store your trash can out of the way when it’s not a designated trash pickup day, that’s not out of line. But if it requires you to build your schedule around having your trash can removed from the curb in an unreasonable amount of time after trash pickup, that’s ridiculous. For example, say your trash service picks up at about 9 a.m. and your trash can must be put away by noon or you’re in violation of HOA rules. What should you do — take an early lunch to run home and put the trash can in the garage?
Restrictions on Holiday Lights
If you enjoy going all out during the holidays and stringing lights from your home, trees and hedges to spread some cheer, don’t become part of an HOA unless you confirm these types of displays are allowed. Some HOAs might allow a certain number of lights, while others might restrict their use in full. Other HOAs could require that lights be a certain color, such as clear, as well.
No Weekend Home Improvements
The Houston Chronicle shared the story of one of its readers who has an HOA that doesn’t allow homeowners to carry out home improvement tasks on Saturday or Sunday. Isn’t that what weekends are made for? If you live in such an association and want to install gutters or replace your front door, you’ll have to schedule a day off from work to get it done.
Requiring the Perfect Shade of Paint
No Standalone Structures
Some homeowners associations strictly forbid having structures on your property that aren’t attached to the main house, such as a shed. If that’s the case, you can forget about constructing a small playhouse on your property for your children to enjoy. Imagine the hours of fun your children could have playing in a miniature house in your backyard — a house that might not even be visible from the street if you have the right type of fencing. However, just because it’s a structure that’s not attached to your home, it wouldn’t be allowed.
Street Parking Restrictions
What happens if you have a dinner party or overnight guests who need a place to park their car, but they aren’t allowed to leave their cars on the streets of the community?
Becky Beach, a blogger at MomBeach, has had that happen to her.
“My HOA won’t let anyone park on the side of the curb in front of houses. We have three cars since a relative is living with us and only room for two. We had to pay $500 to increase the driveway that extends to our backyard to accommodate the extra car. Those who have cars that park out front after dark get hit with obscene fees!”
No Nonmatching Shingles Allowed
Some HOAs won’t allow any deviation from what was there when you bought the home. For example, some HOAs require things such as the shingles on your house to match all of the other homes in the neighborhood. If you dare to replace your home’s shingles with a different style or color, you risk the possibility of a fine. Plus, you’ll likely have to replace the shingles to match what the HOA deems appropriate.
No Posting of Signs
Some homeowners associations allow the posting of signs in yards, as long as they meet size and content requirements. Other HOAs, however, don’t allow posting of any kinds of signs — under any circumstances. This means if you’re trying to sell your home, you won’t be able to place the “For Sale” sign in your front yard, which will nix your ability to attract prospective buyers who just happen to drive by and spot your property.
Concrete Patterning Must Be Perfect
A planned community with a neat and orderly look can be a great place to live, but sometimes HOAs can enforce their rules in a way that defies common sense.
Broker Totaro shared another story: “When my dad moved into a planned community in coastal Southern California, he thought it would be nice to live in a community that ensured properties were manicured and kept in order — until he had to rip out a brand new driveway because the contractor’s circular pattern on the finished concrete was deemed to be not pronounced enough. My dad asked the contractor to make the swirl marks not as deep because he didn’t like how abrasive it felt in bare feet and that the deeper more pronounced lines trapped more dust which necessitates more frequent washing.”
Lawns Must Be Consistently Green
It makes sense that an HOA would enforce rules related to overgrown lawns, but to require that they be consistently green is a bit much. In hotter months, it’s not uncommon to see lawns that are a little less green unless homeowners stay on top of watering. To have a lawn that’s consistently and uniformly green, you either need to have the time to manually move lawn sprinklers around your lawn in a pattern that waters every single inch or install a sprinkler system. Constant watering can add up to a sizable water bill, and some homeowners might not be in a position to spend the money.
Some HOAs restrict homeowners from parking trailers of any sort — flatbed, livestock or camper, for example — in plain sight on their property, which is understandable. Otherwise, people might store their trailers by the curb in front of their home or in their driveway, which can be unsightly or restrict traffic flow. But what about people who own a camper trailer? How can they conveniently load and unload their camper if they can’t park it in front of their home at least temporarily?
Before you buy in a community governed by a homeowners association, check to see if it allows you to rent out your home. Some HOAs do not allow rentals or subletting for a variety of reasons, including insurance. This could put you in an unfortunate position if, for example, you must move for a job transfer but have been unsuccessful in selling your home. Rental income could cover your mortgage payment, but if your HOA won’t allow you to find tenants, you could wind up in a financial bind.
Recreational Equipment Must Be Out of Sight
Some HOAs have rules about keeping recreational equipment hidden away, which could mean that your children’s bicycles, tricycles and battery-powered ride-on equipment can’t be left on the driveway or in the front yard even while they go inside for lunch. The same rule often applies to motorized and nonmotorized watercraft and snowmobiles. If you don’t have room in your garage for these items, and you can’t leave them in the driveway, the alternative is to rent a storage unit.
No Blue Trampoline Covers
If you buy a trampoline for your kids, make sure the bouncing surface isn’t blue. One Houston-area HOA imposes a $75 fine on residents if they have a blue trampoline surface instead of one that’s green or black, according to the Houston Chronicle. Perhaps green or black blend in better with nature.
Restricting the Color of the Front Door
Just as the color of your home might need to be a certain shade to comply with HOA rules, the front door also often is a point of contention. You might want a bright blue front door to give your home some character, while the HOA allows only specific shades of brown or beige. Always check with the homeowners association for its list of acceptable colors, or submit your paint sample to the board for approval.
No Open Window Blinds
Forget about letting the sunlight in. According to the Houston Chronicle, one of its readers lives in an HOA community that doesn’t allow residents to open their street-facing blinds inside their home because it will disrupt the beauty of the community. If you happen to live in an HOA like this, you might want to invest in some sun lamps to give you the feel, at least, of natural light.
Requiring Expensive Matching Mailboxes
In the defense of preserving aesthetic values in a neighborhood, an HOA might require homeowners to regularly upgrade their property as needed, which is reasonable. In some cases, however, these aesthetic requirements can cross the line. For example, one HOA required its residents to improve their mailboxes. Unfortunately, the mailboxes required by the HOA were $500 each. Considering you can buy an attractive mailbox for 10% of that price, this demand seems over the top.
Restrictions on How You Park
This HOA rule doesn’t have anything to do with parking on the street. Instead, it’s how you park in your driveway. In other words, don’t back in and leave the front of your car facing the road. Instead, you must pull in forward and park. If this rule makes you scratch your head, perhaps it was made in the spirit of uniformity. Whatever the reason, it still seems ridiculous.
No Smoking Anywhere
It’s reasonable to have a homeowners association require that you can’t smoke in public or common areas to avoid offending others. But some homeowners associations are extending the no-smoking rules to a homeowner’s yard, balcony, patio or even inside the privacy of their own home. The interesting part is that some courts have ruled in favor of HOAs who implement these type of rules.
Your homeowners association could deprive you of one of your great joys: washing and polishing your car in the driveway. Some associations are concerned about water usage, while others might fear a soapy runoff could create hazards to people or plants. Whatever the reason, perhaps you and your neighbors could appeal to your HOA board to add a dedicated car washing area somewhere in an out-of-the-way section of the community that meets both its water-saving and drainage specifications. Otherwise, you’ll need to find a local car wash — hopefully, one that offers a punch card for frequent visits.
Tip: Verify the Rules Exist
If you start getting nasty letters in your mailbox or notices on your door about HOA rules you’re allegedly violating — especially ones you weren’t aware of — make sure the particular rule that’s being cited actually is listed in the HOA’s rules and regulations. If it’s just one overzealous board member taking you to task, you might not have to comply, according to Realtor.com.
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About the Author
Cynthia Measom is a Texas-based writer specializing in finance, business, parenting and education. With almost a decade of online writing experience, her work has appeared on websites such as Chron.com, The Bump and The Motley Fool. Measom received a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Texas at Austin.