If you are buying a condominium, cooperative or townhouse, take a look at the community association before signing the purchase agreement.
Community associations which govern these facilities can exercise a tremendous amount of control over what you can and can’t do if you live there. HALT, an Organization of Americans for Legal Reform, states that these associations typically set out a number of restrictions. You may be limited in what color you can paint your house and you may be told what types of shrubs and flowers you can plant. The association may even dictate what your garbage can must look like. You don’t have the right to opt out of belonging to the association.
In addition to how the neighborhood looks, the community association has the power to bill you for the costs of running the association. If you don’t pay up, the association can foreclose on your home.
An estimated 50 million Americans live in homes that are governed by community associations. Some of them are good, some are so-so and some are downright awful. Most community associations do a good job but there have been horror stories such as the couple who’s lost their home because they failed to pay a $120 assessment fee.
Check out the rules and regulations of the association that governs the community before you sign the purchase agreement. A word of warning…while you may take a close look at the governing documents it is unlikely that you will be able to change any of its requirements.
What should you look for when buying a home that is controlled by a community association?
Take a look at the association’s financial status. Be wary, if it is having financial difficulties.
What are the financial requirements of the residents? Typically you will have to pay for maintenance of common areas, so ask to see the budget as well as a list of recent assessments and how often they must be paid.
Also, talk with other residents to get a sense of what living in the area would be like. Since a community association has the power to govern many of your actions, it is important that you have a sense of the organization and its impact on residents, states HALT.
If you do have a problem, HALT recommends that you check the association rules that pertain to your problem. If there is a dispute about the new shade of green on your house, and the regulations indicate that color is prohibited, then you are probably out of luck. If you don’t like a decision by the community association, you can raise the issue with the board of directors. Do it in writing and keep copies of the letter and any written responses. In addition, some states have departments that may help resolve the dispute.
The best you can do is become very familiar with the rules governing what you can and can’t do, follow them, and if in doubt, check with the board of directors for answers.
For more information go to www.halt.org.