Homeowners Association (HOA) fees can be a source of confusion for many homeowners. This often leads to questions such as what do HOA fees cover? Are they required? And who sets them? To help answer these questions, President of West & Woodall Property Management Chris Hawkes explains everything you need to know about homeowners' financial obligations within a community and how they can make the most of their HOA membership.
What is a Homeowners Association?
A homeowners association is typically established within a planned unit development. Chris explains that it is set up when a developer builds a community but is then turned over to the residents. At that point, it becomes a homeowners association, and the homeowners gain control of the community. The HOA operates based on a set of rules called covenants, conditions, and restrictions (CC&Rs). The bylaws are a condensed form of the CC&R that outline the regulations and guidelines for the community, but Chris says, "If in doubt, check the CC&R."
The HOA is run by a board of directors, elected by the homeowners. The officers consist of positions such as president, vice president, treasurer, and secretary and are appointed by the board of directors. The board of directors meets regularly with the officers to discuss various matters concerning the HOA, including budgeting, planning, collections, and hiring vendors. In some cases, the board may hire an HOA management company to assist in running the community.
It's important to note, that every homeowners association is different, so it is critical to read the CC&R before buying a home in a community that is governed by a HOA.
What Do HOA Fees Cover?
HOA fees, also known as homeowner association fees or dues, are regular payments made by homeowners to support the operations and maintenance of the community. HOA fees can vary widely depending on the amenities and services provided. Some are assessed as a monthly HOA fee while others are paid on an annual basis. Typically, the more amenities a community has, such as pools, clubhouses, tennis courts, or walking trails, the higher the HOA fees.
Common Expenses Covered by HOA Fees
HOA fees cover a wide range of expenses related to the upkeep and management of the community. While some of these expenses depend on whether the community is made up of single-family homes or townhomes or condos, here's a look at what some of the most common costs are.
Landscaping and lawn care
Fees often cover the cost of maintaining the landscaping for the HOA community, including mowing, trimming, and planting flowers or trees.
Common area maintenance
HOA fees contribute to the maintenance and repair of common areas such as sidewalks, playgrounds, parks, or picnic areas.
HOAs typically carry insurance policies that cover common areas, community buildings, and shared infrastructure. These HOA insurance policies protect against liability and property damage.
HOA fees may provide access to amenities like swimming pools, fitness centers, tennis courts, or clubhouses. The fees cover the maintenance, repair, and operational costs of these facilities.
Exterior home maintenance for townhome and condo communities
In most townhome and condo communities, the HOA is responsible for such things as roofs, siding, and gutter cleaning. "Everything," Chris says, "Except the windows and doors."
If roads in the community were not built to North Carolina DOT standards, their maintenance is the responsibility of the HOA. This includes repairing potholes, repaving, and snow and ice removal. If the roads were built to NCDOT standards, the roads are public and are not the responsibility of the HOA.
In some cases, HOA fees cover utilities such as water, sewer, or electricity for common areas like street lighting.
A portion of the fees is typically allocated to a reserve fund, which serves as a financial safeguard for future repairs, replacements, or unexpected expenses. The larger the reserve fund, the less of a chance that a special assessment will need to be imposed to cover major, nonroutine maintenance. Special assessments can be one-time charges or ongoing fees, depending on the expense that needs to be covered.
HOA fees contribute to administrative expenses like accounting, legal fees, and professional management services.
Some HOAs organize community events or social activities, and the fees may help fund these events.
How Fee Amounts Are Determined
The board of directors, made up of homeowners elected by other homeowners in the community, determines your HOA fee amounts. According to Chris, the board assesses the community's financial needs based on various factors such as ongoing maintenance costs, upcoming projects, reserve fund requirements, and administrative expenses. They consider the amenities and services provided by the HOA and calculate an appropriate fee structure to cover these costs.
Before implementing fee changes, the board typically communicates with homeowners and may hold meetings to discuss the proposed adjustments. Homeowners usually have the opportunity to provide input and ask questions regarding the fee structure. Ultimately, the board makes the final decision after taking into account the community's best interests and financial stability.
Chris explains that this is why it's so important for homeowners to be involved in their HOA. "Not only do you need people to step up and join the HOA board, but when changes are being proposed or being made, you need to take the time to vote on it. You need to take the time to read the things that come in the mail that say, 'This change is being considered.' That's your chance to have a say within an HOA. Otherwise, if a change passes, it does so because your representative said it's okay."
Why It's Important to Pay HOA Fees
It's important for homeowners to realize that paying HOA fees is a legal obligation that they agree to when buying a home within a planned community that is governed by a homeowners association. The paperwork where fees and the rights and responsibilities of homeowners are disclosed is part of the closing process for the home. Chris says that people do have a choice in the matter, but that comes in the form of deciding whether to buy a home in a HOA or not. If you buy a home that's part of an HOA, you are agreeing to abide by that community's rules and to pay your HOA fees. That’s why it’s so important to read the CC&R before buying a home in a HOA.
According to Chris, failure to make an HOA payment can result in various consequences. These include:
- Late fees: Most HOAs impose late fees for overdue payments. These fees can accumulate over time and increase the overall amount owed.
- Lien placement: In serious cases of non-payment, the HOA may place a lien on the homeowner's property. A lien is a legal claim that gives the HOA the right to collect the unpaid fees by selling the property.
- Legal action: If non-payment continues, the HOA may take legal action against the homeowner, which can lead to additional fees, court costs, and potential foreclosure.
The Bottom Line on What HOA Fees Cover
As we've seen here, HOA fees play a crucial role in supporting the operations, maintenance, and amenities of communities governed by a homeowners association. They cover a wide range of expenses, including landscaping, common area maintenance, insurance, amenities, and administrative costs. The fee amounts are determined by the HOA board of directors, taking into consideration the community's needs and financial stability. It is essential for homeowners to understand and fulfill their responsibility of paying HOA dues to avoid consequences such as late fees, liens, or legal action. By contributing to the HOA fees, homeowners actively participate in maintaining and enhancing the quality of their community and protecting their property values.
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