Homeowners Association (HOA) horror stories. We’ve all heard them, from mailbox color conflicts to HOA zealots measuring fence and shrub heights. The purpose of an HOA is to police a neighborhood and put in place rules and guidelines that keep the neighborhood clean, safe and welcoming. However, when you have a group of people in charge of making rules and another group required by law to follow them, you can expect that there might be some conflict.
Not convinced? Read this Reddit thread of HOA covenants and restrictions (CC&Rs) nightmares, which at times seem arbitrary, illogical and excessive. Granted, those are the worst of the worst, but HOA fines are no laughing matter. With a little time (okay, a lot of time in some cases) you can effectively manage your HOA relationship. Why waste money on unnecessary fines when you can keep that money in your pocket with these 6 tips:
1. Thorough Resident Screening
Probably one of the more overlooked parts of minimizing HOA fines is through resident screening. Selecting residents who care about the upkeep of the property is not only important to the value of your home, but central to minimizing those HOA fines.
When selecting residents, you want to set expectations prior to move-in. Explain that the property is located within an HOA and that they will be required to follow a certain set of rules and standards in order to live there. Let them know that any violations and subsequent fines will be their responsibility, not yours.
2. Build a Relationship With Your HOA
You want to build a strong relationship with the HOA community managers because it makes life easier. Let's say the HOA drives by your property and the lawn isn’t mowed and weeds are growing everywhere. They are likely to issue you a violation notice with a compliance due date. If you’ve got a relationship with the HOA manager, a simple call explaining that you’re in the middle of an eviction process and it’s been tough to get compliance may be all you need. They might say, "No big deal. Thanks for the heads-up. We'll grant you a ten-day extension on top of the ten days you already have." So now you’ve got 20 days to cure the violation. Extensions to cure violations are just one of the many reasons you should build a relationship with your HOA.
If you don't have or maintain a good relationship, then you lose any leverage or leeway that you might otherwise have. Instead, the community manager may just stick to what's on the piece of paper. "I said ten days. I don't care how you get it done."
3. Monitor the Property
At Haven Homes, we maintain a presence in our neighborhoods and look for issues (like weeds) before they escalate into HOA fines. We suggest you do the same. If you see a resident violating the HOA CC&Rs, reach out to that resident before the HOA violation process begins. It shows the resident you expect them to follow the rules and lets the HOA manager know you’re on their side.
4. Continuous Communication
Communication is key and not always easy. Sometimes it's difficult to get hold of the HOA community managers, but if you want to reduce fines, you have to be diligent.
When we receive a violation, we immediately contact the HOA. If it's something we can't get done within the timeframe allotted, we ask for an extension. We are in constant contact with the resident to make sure the violation is cured. We maintain persistent communication with the HOA to let them know the current status until the issue is resolved. As soon as that violation's been cured, we reach out to them again to let them know it's done.
5. Document Everything
Avoiding fines can be a lot of work in terms of documentation and paperwork. But if you want to avoid hefty fines, document you must. We provide photo evidence that the incident has been cured. Why? Because community managers are busy and may not always respond to emails. Some are not even great at checking their emails.
Using our messy lawn resident example, we would ask that the resident provide us with several photos proving that they’ve taken care of all the weeds and mowed the lawn. Then, we’ll email those photos to the HOA with a message along the lines of: "Look, we got this resolved as of 4/12. Can you please let us know when the violation's been closed out? "
Let's say that we get to the month of May and we had a fine imposed on us for three weeks in April after we had already cured the violation. Our proof is our documentation. We have the email and the photos to back it up. At the next HOA meeting we can argue our case. It’s a lot easier to argue that the fine should be waived because either somebody never checked the email or never re-inspected the property following our response. Otherwise, it’s your word against theirs.
6. Know Your Rights
HOAs are constantly enforcing rules and fines. Some members almost seem to thrive on it. Knowing what is legal and what’s not, means that you only pay what’s required and not a penny more. At Haven Homes, we make sure that the lease is written so our homeowners can pass along the price of the fine—and any expense to rectify it—to residents.
Our overall takeaway? HOAs are great because they typically come with community amenities like pools, clubhouses, gyms and parks. The bad part is that an HOA can be a lot of work when you have a noncompliant resident and fines start to eat away at your profit.
Want to make sure you’ve got all your bases covered? Download our property management checklist now!