When you are ready to buy a home, you want it to be perfect. Your home will likely be the single biggest purchase you will make, and aside from it being a warm place to welcome friends and raise a family, it is also an investment.
Like many homebuyers, you may have driven through neighborhoods looking for the right place. Perhaps you saw things in those neighborhoods that made you decide it was worth the extra money to purchase a home in a planned community with a homeowner association. However, understanding the complex laws that govern these communities is important before you make your purchase.
Covenants, conditions and restrictions
When you express interest in a home governed by an HOA, someone from the board should give you a copy of the covenants, conditions and restrictions in place for that community. The developer or the original residents of the community likely established these rules, and they are legally binding as long as they don’t contradict any laws. Some of the common items in a CC&R may include:
- The colors you may paint your house
- Where you may place buildings on your property
- Limitations on the height and style of fence you may build
- Restrictions on the kinds, number and sizes of animals you may own
- Rules concerning the maintenance of your yard
Your HOA may also prohibit you from using your property for purposes other than residential. For example, the CC&R may forbid you from operating a business out of your home if it means bringing excess traffic into the neighborhood. The purpose of these rules is to preserve the peace of the neighborhood and to maintain the value of its properties.
HOAs over the line
CC&Rs are difficult to amend because such changes typically require approval from a percentage of the homeowners. Additionally, some residents may have chosen a particular New Jersey community because the CC&R appealed to them.
However, if a CC&R contains offensive or unenforceable language, you have every right to question the validity of the document. For example, CC&Rs from before 1960 may contain restrictions against selling property to people of a certain color or race. An HOA board may think it’s fine to simply cross out the offensive words, but you may find it unacceptable that an HOA hasn’t taken steps to revise its CC&R to eliminate racist or illegal restrictions.
Some HOAs are much more involved than others in the everyday management of the properties within a community. Since HOAs are made up of the homeowners in the community, you may find the idea of belonging to such a neighborhood enticing. Whether you seek membership on an HOA board or decide to live quietly by the association’s CC&R, you always have the option of seeking legal advice if you should encounter a situation that places you at odds with your HOA.