HOAs: The good, the bad, and the ugly

By Elizabeth Erickson | Oct 10, 2012

Many residential communities have Home Owner Associations. Often they might seem like they hold little relevance – until rules are broken.

Residential HOAs are often managed by volunteer neighbors who form a board. They must register the HOA in the state of Washington as a corporation.

Each association has individualized Covenants, Conditions & Restrictions. They hold annual meetings, collect dues, elect officers, etc.

Buyers often state preferences for or an aversion to buying in a neighborhood with CC&Rs.

“I don’t want to be told where I can park my boat/motorhome or what color to paint my house!” Or, conversely, “We want assurances that neighbors won’t park a boat/ motorhome or paint their house pink!”

Here are just a few examples:

The Ugly: Some folks have poor impressions of CC&R’s with good historical reason. This one jumped off a community’s CC&R pages in the 1990s: “11. No persons of color are to be allowed to be in the neighborhood other than waitpersons or gardeners.” (Truly!?!)

That paragraph was officially blotted out prior to the start of this new century, but should have been expunged long before. Through the lens of our enlightened sensibilities, it was offensive to all.

The Bad: Restrictions may include “allowable types of roofs.” The purpose when written, was to retain uniformity with good reason.

But most HOAs are changing the requirement of cedar shingles to allow three-tab architectural composition roofing, now the choice on multimillion dollar homes. This is an update that’s just practical with the times.

HOAs also need to be diligent in updating their liability insurance. In one case, a child was badly injured biking on trails in the common greenbelt area. The lawsuit was a half million dollars. Each homeowner’s assessment was $10,000 after the weak insurance coverage.

The Good: Buyers bought a vacant bluff lot in a desirable view neighborhood. Upon framing, they were politely contacted that the projected three-story was unacceptable. “Structures not to exceed 1 & 1∕2 stories in height.” Work stopped – for two days.

The HOA then filed an injunction. A two-week pause before work commenced again. It took about two years and thousands of homeowners’ dollars in the ensuing lawsuit, but when the gavel fell, so did the completed home’s third story master suite, a high price for arrogance. (More so when they had to consider how then, to make a master suite?)

But of greatest importance in that case? Had that HOA acquiesced – every home’s views would have been threatened. Once an exception has been made, then that clause is for all intents and purposes unenforceable.*

Bottom line: There’s much more good in HOAs than the challenges. However, every association is only as good as the commitment of a few neighbors who make the association work.

Give those folks a lovely dinner out – annually!

* There are exceptions to every rule; an attorney should be consulted when in doubt.

Next month: Reinstating HOA’s after years of inactivity.

Elizabeth Erickson is owner and designated broker of Gallery Homes Real Estate. Contact her at erickson@galleryhomesre.com or at the office: 425-212-4300 or direct: 425-508-1405, or go to www.galleryhomesre.com.

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