In Southeast Texas, Homeowners Associations perform many important functions. Depending on the city and county, the most important roles of the Association may vary. For instance, in Houston, which has no zoning, the most important role is defining what can be built and the appearance of homes within the Association’s area. In many subdivisions, additional security patrols are also provided through the Associations. Outside Houston, but within Harris County and in other counties, substituting for city services may be the most important role. For instance, trash pickup and maintenance of common areas may be the role of the Association.
Besides these functions, the Association may be responsible for common costs, such as water in a condo or town home community, and amenities such as tennis courts or gym memberships. Perhaps the trickiest role for the Association is the architectural committee or equivalent. In many communities, changes to a home, including colors chosen, additions to the home, variances in setbacks, and other “quality of life” and appearance issues are ruled on by this committee of the Association. Clearly maintaining certain standards benefit the long-term health of the subdivision. However, many people are not happy with the limitations imposed on their private property.
The Association is generally led by a board elected from the homeowners within the related area. As a minimum, homeowners may want to attend the annual meeting of the Homeowners Association. At the meeting, the homeowners will vote on new board members and may approve the annual budget. Whether you are happy with the Board or unhappy with the Board, you may want to volunteer for one of the committees or the Board itself. Most issues with the Association arise because someone believes the Board is spending too much money in some area (e.g., landscaping), the Board is not spending enough in some area (e.g., security), their neighbors are doing something the homeowner believes is inappropriate (e.g., operating a business out of the home) or not doing something the homeowners believes should be done (e.g., not mowing the yard.) Your involvement helps ensure your opinion on these matters is heard.
Depending on the size, responsibility, and budget of the Association, it may hire a management company and delegate certain responsibilities to the management company (e.g., contract negotiations, handling complaints, preparing a budget, collecting dues, doing the accounting, etc.)
A standard addendum to the contract to purchase a home in Texas alerts the buyer a home is subject to mandatory membership in a property owners association. Beside notification, the form allows for the production of subdivision information which will, depending on negotiations, be paid for by the buyer or seller and produced within a negotiated period of time. Although the form allows for the buyers to decide not to receive the documents, the buyers should obtain and read the documents. The most important documents include bylaws, covenants, conditions, rules and restrictions which let the home buyer know exactly what rules to which the buyers and other owners are obligated. Additionally financial information is important. One does not want to buy into a neighborhood with an insolvent Association as those obligations may become the obligation of the buyer or preclude an appropriately functioning Association. And, the buyer will want to understand the budget and know the annual dues amount payable to the Association. Once, the buyers become the homeowners, they will want to also ensure the Association maintains adequate insurance.
The Association can place a lien on your property for non-payment of dues, just as a city or county can. And, the Association can foreclose against the lien. However, recent changes to Texas law have made foreclosure much more difficult. And, the Association does not really want to own your home.
In summary, a Homeowners Association provides governance for your subdivision with respect to common services, amenities and needs; manages the costs for these services; and provides a framework for the community’s appearance and quality of life. You as an owner, have the right and privilege to participate in how that is implemented.