What Landlords Need to Know About Homeowners Associations

If you’re considering the purchase of a rental unit in a community governed by a homeowners association (HOA), you’ve got a lot to think about before signing. Because many HOAs are committed to enforcing their bylaws, you need to know their rules. To get you up to speed on HOAs, we’ve put together these tips on what landlords need to know about homeowners associations.

Get Familiar with the HOA’s Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions (CC&Rs)

When buying a home within a “planned community” like a condominium, single family home or a townhouse, you may find the benefits seem pretty great at first. For a monthly fee, many services are performed across the shared property — from mowing the lawn to removing the snow. Plus, you may get to use exercise facilities and other amenities.

As much as the HOA fee may be a downside, those costs may not be as big of an issue as their restrictive rules and regulations. Before you put in an offer for an HOA-managed rental property, dig deep into those CC&R details and learn about their corporate culture to verify that they’re managed in a way that works for you.

What You Need to Know About HOA Fees

HOAs are much like a property management business. They have been charged by the HOA board of directors to keep the common areas of the property well maintained. Like one business to the next, they're each a bit different — and the fees they charge are no exception to that rule. Here’s what you need to know about HOA fees:

Understand how the HOA limits occupancy. This is a key detail for real estate investors that will be renting a space out. The CC&Rs may outright prohibit your ability to rent, or the homeowner association laws may allow it, but with very specific and strict guidelines. Also inquire about short-term leases now. If your tenant leaves in the middle of a lease, will you be able to work with a subletter?

Pay attention to any HOA fee. Even if an HOA fee of $1.00 is stated, you need to be aware that bylaws and restrictive policies may be in play.

Learn about HOA fee trends. Because a number of factors can impact the cost of the HOA fee, it’s important to understand how the fee had been trending in the past few years. If they’ve been scheduled to go up by 3% annually, they’ll be 30% higher in ten years.

Get the details on what you’re buying. Inquire about what is covered and what’s not paid for with your monthly fee. If landscaping and snow removal are included, that doesn’t mean garbage collection and cable TV is. Request a full list of all products and services that the HOA pays for.

Compare and contrast. Once you’re more familiar with the offerings of HOAs, you’ll be able to better look at similar properties and see the differences between them. Make a list of pros and cons for each property. In addition to the cost itself, you’ll soon be able to see where the best deal for your money is.

Inquire about hidden costs. Some HOAs charge a fee that only covers the cost of the work they’re required to perform or outsource to contractors. Ask about how the HOA plans to afford big-ticket items. You may wind up with a big increase in dues when the parking lots are slated for replacement.

Get Details on the HOA’s Business Operations and Board of Directors

Once you have an understanding of the cost structure of the HOA, it’s time to dig deeper into the business side of the HOA. Because your property will be dependent of the financial decisions the HOA will make, you need to know that the group’s making good decisions. And if there are any upcoming projects that will require additional funds, you’ll want to take that into consideration too.

Ask about the HOA’s financial reserves. Financial solvency will also vary from one HOA to another. By requesting banking details from the HOA, you’ll see how healthy the business-side of the HOA is. If you see that they’re having trouble keeping a positive cash balance, they may be looking to increase fees soon to make up the difference. Consider bringing on a CPA to audit the HOA’s numbers.

Find out about the board of directors. Learn about the number of years the board of directors has been active. Inquire about term limits and look for trends between board member turnover and financial issues.

Review the HOA’s special assessments. Costs for special projects are usually spread evenly across all members of the HOA. But depending on the reserve fund amount, the monthly fee and the number of households contributing, the assessments can impact communities to varying degrees.

Suppose an HOA is proposing a $600,000 special assessment to cover the cost of replacing a swimming pool and its solar panels. That cost distributed across 2500 members is $240 per member. But if the HOA’s only got 500 members, that cost climbs to $1200 per member household.

Financing Your Loan With an HOA

Your bank will take a close look at your financial records when you apply for a loan. If the home you’re considering is part of an HOA, your bank will also consider that as well. Here are other ways that financing your loan with an HOA–property can impact your underwriting.

The bank will review the HOA fee. You know that the HOA fee can make a big difference on your bottom line and so does your mortgage group. Be sure you’re able to prove that you can afford the additional expense for HOA fees by using a mortgage calculator with an option to input the HOA fee.

HOA fees are not necessarily a bad thing. Depending on the age of the property, an HOA fee can mean a decrease in overall costs. It may actually be less expensive to live in an area where an HOA manages much of the day to day operations of a property. Underwriters like to know that out-of-pocket expenses will be absorbed across a large and solvent HOA, and that can be a good thing.

HOA fees will impact your maximum approved amount. Because mortgage lenders are all different, it pays to shop around and compare deals. The way underwriters calculate monthly expenses and incorporate HOA fees into that math will also vary between lenders.

HOAs with high tenancy rates may be an issue. It can be difficult to get a loan on a property that’s saturated with tenants. When a certain percentage of units are rented out, lending groups worry that if HOA fees escalate, tenants will flee the property. This can impact resale value and you may have a hard time securing funds for the purchase.

Learn About the HOA’s CC&Rs

Here’s where a little online research can help you get HOA codes, covenants and regulation details. Do a search for the name of the HOA and look for their published CC&Rs. There’s a lot you can learn from a well-appointed HOA website.

Get up-to-date CC&Rs. If your internet search resulted in outdated CC&Rs, request a current set of documents before making any decisions. Board members change and sometimes new management decisions aren’t readily accessible.

Explore the limits and allowances of the HOA. Many HOAs will define the ways you can decorate, paint, garden and park certain types of vehicles on your property. Be sure that you can live with these requirements before you buy.

Identify the way the HOA handles conflict. If you install the wrong type of blinds on your windows, how does the HOA go about resolving the issue? Some will go so far as to place a lien on your home in order to force compliance. Will you be able to work and live within the limits that the HOA requires?

Explore the HOA-imposed penalties for violations. Be sure you’re able to live with the HOA’s fining structure process and learn about how fines are imposed. When rules and regulations are broken what is the first course of action the HOA will take?

Get historic details on HOA legal actions. Most HOAs keep publicly-available notes on issues and resolutions that resulted in fines or other legal actions. Have a large number of property owners been taken to court, and has the HOA ever been involved in lawsuits? Also inquire if the HOA has ever violated state law of federal housing laws.

Review HOA-imposed foreclosures. It may be worthwhile to explore how the HOA deals with its biggest issues. By resorting to foreclosure, HOAs may be working against their own best interests. In other circumstances, the move may be justified. Some HOAs have bylaws that allow the board to foreclose on a member for nonpayment of HOA fees. Look into the reasons and ways in which foreclosures occurred to gain insights into the culture of the HOA.

Explore the Reputation of the HOA

By learning about the HOA’s reputation, you’ll have a better idea of how its employees and staffers manage their operations. Here are other considerations when exploring the reputation of the HOA.

Inquire about the business structure of the HOA. Many HOAs are group of volunteer board members that were voted into their position. Others are run more like a property management company — outsourced and without local members able to advocate for their needs. Learn about frequently used sub-contractors and their reputation too.

Study up on the Community Associations Institute (CAI). Get online and look at the CAI’s website to learn about HOAs and all the benefits they provide. Their online Learning Center is a great way to introduce yourself to HOAs if you’re new to the process. With details on trends, current legislative advocacy and training opportunities, this website has a lot to offer. You may find information on your state’s HOA Chapter where you can inquire about the property you’re considering.

HOA Compliance and Your Property

Sometimes, residents may have to move when they can’t afford to update or upgrade the property. Ask the HOA for a full inventory of property issues that are in violation of HOA CC&Rs. If you purchase the property without understanding the extent of the violations, you’ll be held responsible for bringing the property into compliance, which could get expensive.

Be sure to ask about your options for resolving problems. The board may be willing to settle and make an exception to their rules in order for the property sale to go through. They may also increase the time limit for you to make the necessary changes.

Understand the HOA’s Insurance Plan

One benefit of living in a planned community is that many of the costs independent homeowners would incur on their own are carried by the HOA. And because states frequently mandate the ways HOAs are required to carry insurance, you’ll have some understanding of what insurance your HOA is covering and what you’ll be responsible for. Here are a few other points to keep in mind when it comes to understanding HOAs and insurance plans.

HOAs cover common areas. States usually require HOAs to carry policies for areas that the homeowners community has access to.

Homeowners will need their own policy. The purchase of a homeowners or landlord policy will usually be the responsibility of the individual real estate owner in HOA-managed properties. However, most HOAs cover the exterior structure of the building but your own personal property won’t be included in that policy. You’ll also need your own personal liability protection for accidents that occur within your home.

While you’re considering properties and comparing HOA offerings, remember to check in with your American Family Insurance agent. You’ll find great coverage that’s easy to understand. And your agent can help you to build a policy that fully protects everything you’ve worked so hard for. With that kind of coverage, you’ll find the peace of mind that can help you to focus on growing your business.


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Related Topics: Landlord , Property Management