Read fine print before buying into a Homeowners Association community

Rules and regulations can be confusing

Here's the underlying problem when people move for the first time into a condominium or a homeowners association community: They never read the fine print. Heck, they never read any of the paperwork!

And they often end up confused and angry about what is expected of them and what limits are applied to the lifestyle.

It's not that folks are lazy, but there is so much paperwork, why bother? When you enter into what is collectively called a shared ownership community, or SOC, you are given all sorts of documents, including declarations, covenants, conditions, restrictions, articles and bylaws.

You move into your dream condominium in the mountains and expect a continuation of the American Dream.

This is your castle and you can do what you want -- until you discover that your flat-screen TV with surround-sound is 10 decibels louder than your neighbor can tolerate, the smell of your cigar bothers the people living above you, the floor that you just had installed has to be ripped up because it didn't meet architectural restrictions, and a special assessment is going to cost you thousands. You're pissed off, and you are not going to take it anymore ...

Well, you usually do put up with it unless you want to move away, which could mean bumping into a whole lot more condo rules that you weren't aware of.

For all of you who've become disgruntled, perplexed, threatened or disappointed in your shared ownership community lifestyle, Gary Poliakoff and his son, Ryan Poliakoff, wrote a book for you: "New Neighborhoods: The Consumer's Guide to Condominium, Co-op, and HOA Living."

A slight nod to son Ryan, who according to the book jacket is president of a condominium property in South Florida, but this book is really the handiwork of father Gary, an attorney, who after almost four decades in the SOC legal trenches has become one of the foremost authorities on community association law.

Going back 45 years, just about the time when Gary was still an undergraduate at the University of South Carolina, there were only about 1,000 SOCs in the U.S. Now, there are 300,000 SOC associations.

That's nearly four times the number of municipal governments, and they are responsible for maintaining and operating homes that are occupied by 24 million families and 60 million individuals, and have a collective value of $4 trillion..

Today, SOC residents are often dismayed and disgruntled, which is why Gary and Ryan wrote "New Neighborhoods" -- common folk who own SOC properties need some common-folk guidance.

New Neighborhoods is different than many other books written primarily for lawyers in that it is written for a lay audience, in conversational language.

"When we wrote it, we wanted to create a book that would be to shared ownership communities as 'Robert's Rules of Order' is to parliamentary procedure," Gary exclaims.

"This would be something a volunteer on a board or a person buying into a shared ownership community could use. This is for someone who wants to understand exactly what their rights and responsibilities are without falling asleep reading legalese."

Here are some paragraphs addressing some of the more prevalent hot buttons that drive SOC owners slightly batty:

  • Architectural review. "In many communities, any modifications made to limited common elements and sometimes even individual units must be presented to the association. It is quite legal for your (association) to require approval of these projects. However, there is a cardinal rule of law when assessing an architectural review committee's scope of authority: the exercise of power by the ARC must be governed by the applicable covenants and guidelines and must be reasonably exercised, must be made in good faith and must not be arbitrary and capricious."
  • Selling. "No association in any state can entirely prevent you from selling your unit. That said, associations can apply a few restrictions that may reduce your ability to alienate your property. Perhaps the most common is the right of first refusal."
  • Outside management. "From the perspective of the board of directors, there are a lot of reasons why it might be in the best interest of the association to contract with a management company. A single harassment or discrimination lawsuit could quickly wipe out any savings that the association may have realized by going solo."
  • Maintenance. "While all state laws provide some version of this rule, the Uniform Common Interest Ownership Act explicitly states that 'the association is responsible for maintenance, repair, and replacement of the common elements.' If damage is inflicted on the common element, the association, if it is responsible, is liable for the prompt repair thereof."

So, what's the best way to approach an SOC purchase?  Well, according to Gary "The only safe bet today is to buy into a community that is built out," he says. "Even then you might still be buying into the potential pitfalls of bad debt, but the amenities are built and you can see what the community is. I would be very hesitant to buy into the promises of future development."

The bottom line?  Read the documents before purchasing a place with an association!  Make sure you’re ok with the majority of the rules and regs.   Will everything be just perfect for you? Maybe not, but the association does take care of a lot of things that you’d have to do by yourself without them.  They can save you a lot of brain damage!  Inman News.


For answers to your real estate questions, call Allison at 970-468-6800. Email - [email protected]. Want to know the value of your Summit County property? Visit   

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