What Should I Know About HOAs & Condo Associations Before Making A Purchase?
Unfortunately, most people that purchase a unit or a home in a condominium association or a homeowner association have absolutely no idea what the rules and the regulations and the other restrictions that are contained in the other governing documents of the association. Typically you have 4 governing documents. You have the declaration which in condominiums is typically called the Declaration of Condominium and in homeowners it could be called Declaration of Restrictions or Covenants and those are really the nuts and bolts of how the association operates. It gives the association the right to collect assessments, it gives the association the right to budget for those, it gives the association the right to collect from unit owners if they don’t pay those to the associations.
It has certain use rights that establish what a unit owner can do or cannot do, what kind of easements the developer control has and if not what sort of easements the association which is run by the board of directors has, it outlines what the common elements are. So you have your house or your condominium unit that you own but there are common elements that in condominium associations, you share routes oftentimes. So those types of things are very important to know prior to a purchase. You also have bylaws which are how the association is supposed to operate and voting rights of the members of the association, the rules that the board of directors have to follow in regard to the board of director meetings and to annual meetings of the unit owners or homeowners.
You have the articles of incorporation which may indicate when the association turns over from developer control to unit owner control and then you have rules and regulations that the board of director passes that takes care of or restricts mundane things such as whether or not you can have a pickup truck that’s parked in your driveway or can you have a boat or an RV or what kind of animal you can have or the size of the animal. Those can be contained in the rules or regulations or in the declaration. One of the other things that is usually contained in the Declaration of Covenants or Declaration of Condominiums is the ability to make any types of modifications to your home or to your unit. A lot of associations in the declaration have architectural review committees.
So if you want to make a modification to your house which may include something as minor as painting your house, you may have a certain color scheme that you are committed to. So everybody has brown and greenhouses and you want to paint your house bright pink, you are going to have a problem because the architectural review committee is going to say no to that. There are statutory issues that come up as well that govern it and under condominiums, Florida statute 718 and under homeowner’s associations that’s Florida statute Chapter 720. Those also have restrictions in regard to what can be changed, what the associations and the unit owners can do, what number of votes are needed if it’s not clear in the governing documents, sometimes if it’s clear in the governing documents, the statutes will supersede the governing documents.
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So there are a whole lot of authorities that can govern a person’s right to live the way they want to live within such an association and if you don’t research those prior to purchasing then there is going to be some unhappiness and it may also affect your ability to sell the unit or resell it after you’ve purchased it. So it’s always a good idea to get a copy of those documents and I think it’s a really good idea to have an attorney and consultations don’t cost as much. It is easy to sit down with a client and say what are your concerns? The attorney can point it out and say that here you are telling me that you have 4 dogs. Do you understand that this allows one dog and it has to be under 20 pounds? So if you purchase this property, you are going to either have to get rid of the other 3 dogs or the fourth if it’s not under 20 pounds or you are not going to be able to live there or you can take your chances and run into problems and then, at some point, the association is probably going to write you nasty letters.
They may also sue you if you don’t comply. Those are the kinds of messes that you want to avoid, those are the kinds of messes that an attorney like myself deals with every day but part of my job is not to just deal with the messes as they come up, it is to prevent those types of things from happening. So if somebody comes to me and let’s say they have an hour of consultation at the cost of $250 to have that consultation and it saves them $10,000 worth of grief in the future then certainly that’s a worthwhile endeavor. So the smart thing to do is to make sure to get a hold of the governing documents and make sure to get a hold of the newest governing documents. One of the other reasons why it’s important to hire counsel is because not only are you dealing with those governing documents that were initially recorded there are also 2 amendments that are made.
Sometimes those aren’t easy to find in the public records. That’s where you need the attorney to go find those amendments and say I’m looking at the bylaws and I’m looking at the declaration and it doesn’t say anything about restriction of pets and then all of a sudden you look at the third amendment that was recorded four or five years after the original declaration was amended and all of a sudden, it says no pets allowed. So if you haven’t looked through all those amendments, found them and then be able to interpret them, I think it’s always a good idea to talk to a lawyer before you do that. If you talk to a lawyer and you feel comfortable then you can purchase that. The other thing is and this is a little less common but obviously, when you’ve lived in those types of associations you have to pay maintenance assessments.
Typically, the title company or the attorney that is doing the closing will get an estoppel to make sure that the prior owner doesn’t have a lot of delinquencies that you are responsible for and those are paid off and there usually is a sheet that will inform the new purchaser from the associations as to what the current assessments are going to be but here you also need to ask a few questions because there may be a special assessment that has either been imposed in addition to the general maintenance assessments or it’s been voted on and the board knows it’s coming but it really hasn’t taken place yet or hasn’t been imposed against the owners yet and those are questions that you need to have an answer to before you close on the property.
Those are the kinds of questions that an attorney who practices in that field can look at and give the owner if not clarification then it can give them confidence that this is what you are going to be paying at least till the next year when the budget is still in play and then obviously budgets can change and assessments can change.
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