HOA Security Cameras: Laws, Disputes, and Resolutions

There has always been some debate surrounding HOA security cameras and whether or not they should be allowed. While there are good points on both sides, it is important to fully understand their legalities before installing your own.


Navigating the Legalities of HOA Security Cameras

Can an HOA install security cameras? This is a common question asked by many communities and homeowners alike. Though, the answer is not as simple as a yes or no. In order to determine whether HOA or condo security cameras are allowed in your community, you must first look at the situation from all sides.


Check the Law on HOA CCTV Cameras

Since the law holds precedence over everything else, it is paramount to check federal, state, or local laws first. Your community may be located in an area with regulations on HOA security cameras. Generally, though, states allow associations to install security cameras in common areas, provided they do not interfere with privacy laws. Community members have a right to a reasonable expectation of privacy. Therefore, your HOA’s cameras should not point at any private or privately-owned spaces.

California is an example of a state with such laws. According to the California Penal Code §647, security cameras in a homeowners association must not view or be present at restrooms, locker rooms, and the inside of a member’s property or unit. Other states likely have similar laws, though it is important to verify for yourself or check with your HOA lawyer.


Check Your Governing Documents

You must also check your association’s governing documents for any provisions concerning camera use. These documents should give you information on what you can and can’t do with HOA security cameras. Remember that no two associations are the same, so you may have a different set of rules and regulations about security cameras than your neighboring association. If you are unsure about anything, it is always a good idea to consult your association’s lawyer or HOA manager.


Installing HOA Surveillance Cameras in Common Areas

Once you have established that it is okay to install security cameras in your common areas, you can proceed with its implementation. Expect a reaction from residents, though most of them will likely welcome the idea of increased security in the community. Identify the placement of security cameras early on, making sure they do not impact the association’s appearance in a negative way.

You must also allocate a budget for the installation of security cameras in your HOA. Keep in mind that security cameras do not come cheap, but they are an investment worth making. In addition, you may need to set aside some funds if you intend to hire someone to monitor the footage on a daily basis.

The simple presence of security cameras in your community may already deter crime, but they can’t stop crime when it actually takes place. With someone monitoring the cameras, law enforcement can be alerted.

Speaking of which, since their main function is to discourage crime, it may be counterproductive to post signs alerting passersby of the presence of surveillance cameras. There are no laws that require associations to mark these cameras with signs. If you wish to alert homeowners of the cameras’ locations for comfort’s sake, it would be best to communicate it directly with them.


Who Can Have Access to HOA Security Camera Footage?

Private agents monitoring CCTV footage, searching for criminal evidence | hoa surveillance camerasNot everyone should be granted authority to view security camera footage. Generally, it is best to only give access to a small group of people. Other than that, you can release footage to the following persons:

  • Law enforcement when appropriate
  • Residents who can show a reasonable need for it
  • Parties who can present you with proper legal documents such as a subpoena

Your HOA can also opt to hire a third-party monitoring service with its own policies on records security.


Can an HOA Restrict Security Cameras for Homeowners?

It is one thing for homeowners to put up security cameras inside of their homes but another to install them on their home exteriors. A member may complain to the HOA board about their neighbor’s camera interfering with their privacy. This can be a tricky problem to deal with, but your board must remain steadfast and adhere to the rules.

Generally speaking, an HOA does have the right to place restrictions on homeowner security cameras. Check your governing documents to see what policies you have in place concerning residents installing their own security cameras. If you have no such policies, it is time to consider creating one.


Creating an Effective Policy for Residents

It is wise to have a security camera policy that applies to residents in your HOA. In so doing, you can set a standard and regulate the installation of these cameras according to your provisions. When crafting a policy for HOA security cameras, it is imperative to consider the following:


1. Aesthetics

The presence of security cameras may give homeowners peace of mind, but it can also negatively affect curb appeal. This applies to all types of security cameras, but especially large, bulky ones. An HOA is, after all, responsible for maintaining the appearance of the community in an effort to protect property values. If a homeowner decides to place a camera outside of their home, it can interfere with the overall aesthetic of the neighborhood.


2. Privacy

Privacy is a common issue among homeowners, not just in the context of security cameras. Members of the community have a right to a reasonable expectation of privacy. As such, the security camera privacy laws that apply to the association should also apply to homeowners. Therefore, a homeowner should never be allowed to install an exterior camera that points into another owner’s property (backyards, into windows, etc.).


3. Request for Approval

It is a good idea for your HOA board to treat homeowner security camera installations as architectural changes. That means homeowners must request the board for approval to put them up. Ask homeowners to include information on where they intend to install these cameras. Then, when reviewing any requests, you must consider whether the camera will have an impact on aesthetics and privacy.


All Things Considered

Although homeowners associations are not legally required to have surveillance cameras in the community, they do serve a purpose. HOA security cameras can help deter crime and make homeowners feel safer in their community. But, improper placement may violate privacy laws and lead to legal liability. When installing security cameras in your HOA, make sure to consider both aesthetics and privacy. It is equally important to scrutinize homeowners’ requests to put up their own security cameras on the exterior of their properties.



When Is The Right Time For Reopening HOA Amenities?

The coronavirus pandemic has forced the world to adapt, and homeowners associations are no exception. As the country slowly starts to reopen, HOAs are left with the problem of whether or not to follow suit. Is reopening HOA amenities now the right decision?


Reopening HOA Amenities Amid the COVID-19 Pandemic

With no immediate end in sight for this worldwide health crisis, homeowners associations everywhere are starting to toy with the idea to reopen amenities. It is, after all, within members’ rights to use community amenities like pools and tennis courts.

Reopening HOA amenities may also help boost the mental and emotional health of association members. But, safety remains an important factor that HOA boards must take into consideration.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has released guidelines designed to help communities mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

Similarly, the Community Associations Institute (CAI) also published a set of guidelines called “Healthy Communities” that can help HOAs protect residents as they adjust and reopen. It is also worth checking with your State Department of Health and County Health Departments for additional support.


Shielding the HOA from Potential Liability

Liability is a common point of concern among associations when it comes to reopening HOA amenities. This can mainly stem from the association’s purported negligence in reopening amenities or from the association promising the members’ safety.

Homeowners associations and their boards must never make a promise they cannot keep. That includes guaranteeing the safety of amenity users.

Even if the HOA creates a plan and does everything in its power to do so, it can never guarantee that members will not contract the virus while using the amenities. Members can also follow the new rules to a T and still end up sick.

To protect your association from liability, it is imperative to avoid making any such promises. Instead, warn all members that these new guidelines cannot guarantee their safety. If they choose to use community amenities, they acknowledge and accept the risks involved.

Some associations ask members to sign blanket waiver documents to free the HOA and its board from potential liability. Before you decide to take the same route, make sure to consult with your HOA attorney first.


Strategy Tips When Reopening Your HOA Amenities

sign in a field asking people to socially distance | reopen amenitiesNot all associations are permitted to reopen common areas and amenities. Before making a decision, check your state or local government rules and regulations for any related provisions.

This includes provisions regarding public facilities such as pools, clubhouses, gyms, tennis courts, and the like.

Once you have the all-clear and decide to reopen amenities, here are some strategy tips you can adopt:


1. Create and Distribute Emergency Rules

Rules exist to maintain order, but they are also designed to keep members safe. Most HOAs must follow standard procedures when creating or amending rules.

But, in some states, HOAs can adopt emergency rules without the need for normal procedures. For instance, in California, associations can enact emergency rules with a maximum effectivity period of 120 days. Sample rules include requiring the use of face masks and limiting the number of people in any given amenity.

In addition to creating these rules, HOAs must put them in writing and communicate them to all members. It is also a good idea to post these emergency rules in every common area or amenity.

Furthermore, you must warn members that the HOA and these rules do not guarantee their safety. Include this disclaimer in all posts and notices.


2. Make Use of an Amenity Booking System

In an effort to limit the number of members at any given time, some HOAs have adopted the use of a booking system. With such a system in place, residents can pick and reserve timeslots for each amenity.

Once a timeslot is full, other residents cannot book it anymore. This will allow your association to control the number of members at each amenity for every time period.


3. Allow Space for Social Distancing

Since the coronavirus passes primarily from person to person through respiratory droplets, social distancing can significantly mitigate the spread of the disease. But, it can be a challenge to practice social distancing, especially in tight or cramped spaces.

As a response, associations must create space to promote social distancing. You can do this by modifying the layout of each space.

Consider removing unnecessary furniture or making use of tape to mark areas where users can stand. In gyms and fitness centers, turn off every other machine or equipment.


4. Adopt a More Frequent Cleaning Schedule

Because the COVID-19 virus can survive on various surfaces for extended lengths of time, HOAs must clean and disinfect amenities more frequently. Make time in your schedule to close down amenities for regular cleaning and disinfection.

Use EPA-registered disinfectants that have been proven to kill the coronavirus. High-touch points, such as doorknobs, handles, railings, light switches, elevator buttons, and the like, must be disinfected at least daily.

If your HOA does not have the resources to clean and disinfect amenities and common areas, consider hiring a cleaning service. Most cleaning companies can come in at regularly scheduled times to accommodate your needs.


5. Provide Sanitizers and Soap

A closeup of a woman cleaning her hands with a sanitizer gel | reopening your HOA amenitiesProper hygiene is of utmost importance now more than ever. To encourage this, post reminders for residents to wash their hands frequently.

On the association’s part, consider installing sanitizer or alcohol dispensers in common areas and amenities. Make sure that soap is also readily available in bathrooms and sink areas.


6. Be Prepared for Change

There is no telling when the pandemic will come to an end. Similarly, no one can know for sure what the future holds. You might reopen the pool one day and end up having to close it down the next.

As such, refrain from sticking to a single approach to safeguard your community and its residents. Instead, monitor the situation on a daily basis and be prepared to make adjustments as instructed by government officials and health experts.


A Safer Environment for All

When it comes down to it, there is no blanket answer as to the right time for reopening HOA amenities. Every community may have its own set of factors that can affect the board’s decision to reopen.

For starters, make sure your local government allows it. Consider the health of your members, including mental and emotional. If you do decide to reopen your amenities, create and communicate rules that residents must follow.

Adopt strategy tips that can help you keep a safe environment. Lastly, remember to protect the association from liability by warning residents that their safety is not guaranteed.



Halloween COVID 19 Activities: How to Safely Have Fun in Your HOA

Halloween is just a stone’s throw away, but many HOA communities are finding it hard to come up with activities to do during the holiday. With the coronavirus pandemic keeping everyone indoors and anxious, calm yourself down and enjoy some spooky fun with these Halloween COVID 19 ideas.


Spooktacular Halloween COVID 19 Ideas for HOAs

During pre-COVID times, HOA neighborhoods used to be filled with costumed kids parading door-to-door with their parents in search of treats. Parties took place in every city, while haunted houses served to entertain and terrify willing (and some not-so-willing) guests. To many, Halloween is an opportunity to get creative and have some fun.

The COVID 19 outbreak, though, has forced the nation at large to change its plans. Parties are too crowded and trick-or-treating has too much close contact. But, that doesn’t mean your HOA community has to remain quiet come Halloween night. Residents can still enjoy Halloween during COVID 19 with the following fun yet safe activities:


1. Carve and Decorate Pumpkins

It’s almost impossible to imagine Halloween without pumpkins — they’re a staple, after all. The best part is that decorating and carving pumpkins is an activity that the entire family can enjoy. Let your kids express their creativity and draw what they want to on the pumpkins. Parents should then do the cutting since it involves a sharp object. Be careful not to injure yourself, too, though!

Instead of a candle, place battery-operated lights inside the carved pumpkins. This eliminates the risk of a fire. Plus, battery-operated lights last much longer than candles do. For a healthy and on-theme snack, take the pumpkin seeds and roast them in the oven at 300 degrees for 45 minutes.


2. Host a Remote Costume Party

Just because you can’t have a Halloween party doesn’t mean you should skip wearing costumes. Organize a virtual costume party with your friends or relatives. You can use Zoom, Skype, or other video conferencing platforms.

For HOA communities, invite the entire neighborhood to participate in a remote costume contest. This will take some planning and communication, though, so start early. If local authorities allow it, you can even put on a costume parade. Residents can don costumes of their choice and walk through the community while observing social distancing protocols. Those who wish to watch can do so from a safe distance or even indoors.


3. Make Halloween-Themed Treats

What’s a good way to get in the Halloween spirit? Make spooky treats, of course! This Halloween COVID 19 activity is particularly great because it teaches kids how to prepare food, allows them to express their creativity, and is perfectly on theme. Plus, there are so many treats you can make.

Candy apples are one of the most popular Halloween snacks. To make them, melt some chocolate in a microwave or over a double boiler. Stir in some coconut oil for a glossy look and smoother consistency. Take your apples and dip them one by one in the melted chocolate. Cover it as much or as little as you want.

Then, add the toppings of your choice. You can go for chocolate chips, M&Ms, Oreos, pretzels, sprinkles — whatever you like! Finally, drizzle some gooey caramel on top. Allow it to harden before eating or just dive right in! It might be on the unhealthier side due to all the sweets, but it’s a fun and tasty Halloween treat.


4. Put Up Decorations

Halloween in COVID 19 times wouldn’t be complete without decorations. Give your house a spooky feel with fake cobwebs, carved pumpkins, fake skeletons, and witch silhouettes against your windows. You can also take your family for a drive through the entire neighborhood to view all the decorated houses.

Don’t forget to decorate the inside of your house, too. Even something simple like cutouts of bats and spiders can get your kids in the mood for Halloween. You can buy a lot of these decorations for cheap online. Alternatively, you can also make your own decorations with colorful paper and some scissors. Kids will love it!


5. Trick-or-Treat… from a Distance

What’s Halloween without some trick-or-treating? It’s a long-standing tradition that kids all around the country love. And what’s not to like? They get to dress up in costumes and ask for candy from neighbors.

With COVID 19 easily transmitted through respiratory droplets, though, HOA residents should take extra caution. If your city or town allows trick-or-treating, consider imposing stricter guidelines for residents to follow.

Remind everyone to wear their face masks and practice social distancing at all times. Ask residents not to personally give away candy. Instead, encourage them to leave a bowl of candy by their door along with a hand sanitizer dispenser. Ask them to post signs reminding trick-or-treaters to sanitize their hands first before getting a handful of treats.

Alternatively, residents can opt to place individual goodie bags in their driveway. Trick-or-treaters can then just grab one and move on to the next house. These Halloween COVID 19 trick-or-treat ideas can make the activity a lot safer for everyone.


6. Schedule a Movie Night

Another community-wide event your HOA can host is a scary movie night. You can watch movies online together using third-party services like Netflix Party. You can even organize a post-movie online discussion where residents can express their thoughts and even make new friends.

Residents can also schedule their own movie nights with friends and family. If children will be watching, too, though, make sure to choose your movie wisely. Kids tend to scare easily, so go for a family-friendly flick that everyone can enjoy. “Toy Story of Terror,” ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas,” and “Monsters Inc.” come to mind.


7. Take the Fun Outside

Although it’s better to stay home, there are some outdoor Halloween activities you can participate in as well. A visit to an apple orchard or pumpkin patch can bring smiles to your kids’ faces. You can also go to a haunted forest or a corn maze. Just remember to pack hand sanitizer, wear your face masks, and practice proper social distancing.

Of course, you don’t have to go too far to enjoy an outdoor activity. Simply camping in your backyard can be a fun experience. You can sleep in a tent, make shadow puppets, and play flashlight tag. Don’t start a campfire, though, as that can quickly grow out of control. If you want to make smores, you can prepare them beforehand in an oven or microwave.


Halloween and COVID 19: Make Safety a Priority

Don’t let the coronavirus pandemic dampen your Halloween spirit. You can still have some fun with your family and stay safe at the same time. Similarly, HOAs can still foster a sense of community even during these trying times. Choose from these great Halloween COVID 19 ideas or try them all!



What Exactly Are The Code Of Ethics For An HOA Board?

As leaders of the HOA community, board members must uphold a set of principles and act as examples. But, even seasoned board members stumble and forget. Learn what the Code of Ethics for HOA board members are and what to do when faced with a morally ambiguous dilemma.


Understanding the Code of Ethics for HOA Board

In a homeowners association setting, ethical conundrums come up daily. It is up to board members to know how to manage such situations when they arise. That is why it is important for every HOA to implement and abide by a Board of Director Code of Ethics. With such a code in place, board members will find it much easier to navigate the everyday problems that come their way.

Although no two associations are the same, there is a basic framework of ethics that HOA boards must uphold. This includes what board members must and must not do. Keep in mind, though, that the ethical standards for HOA board members are not limited to the ones seen below.


What Board Members Should Do

blocks | hoa board code of conductAn HOA board member Code of Ethics must include what board members should do, such as:

  • Only act within the limits of their power or authority as determined by the law and the association’s governing documents.
  • Always work to serve the association’s best interests no matter their personal interests.
  • Execute their duties and responsibilities impartially, with no prejudice or favoritism towards any single or group of members or non-members.
  • Communicate any personal or professional ties with any individual or company that is looking to enter into a business relationship with the HOA.
  • When making decisions, board members must use sound judgment and take all available information, resources, and situations into account.
  • Give residents a chance to make remarks or provide feedback on matters and decisions of the association.
  • Support all decisions made by the collective board to show unity, even if the board member voted to take a different course of action than the one unanimously decided on.
  • Hold fair and open elections that are well-communicated to owners.


What Board Members Should Not Do

As for what board members should not do, here are the fundamental codes to live by:

  • Support or promote any action or activity that violates any law or regulation.
  • Use their power or position for personal gain.
  • Discriminate against colleagues, residents, owners, employees, or contractors on the basis of protected classes as defined by the Fair Housing Act, Americans with Disabilities Act, and state laws.
  • Disclose confidential information provided by association members, employees, or contractors.
  • Share confidential information with association members or contractors unless clearly permitted by the board.
  • Make unwarranted promises to a bidder or contractor.
  • Divulge information — decisions, remarks, or discussions — made at any closed board meeting or executive session to any third party, including residents or owners.
  • Use association funds, either temporarily or permanently, without authorization or for their own personal benefit.
  • Manipulate or misreport known facts in any situation involving the association.
  • Directly or indirectly accept gifts of any kind from community members, suppliers, or contractors.
  • Personally attack community members, employees, or colleagues.
  • Threaten, harass, bribe, or intimidate any fellow board member, resident, owner, employee, or contractor.


A Litmus Test for Grey Area Decisions

While the HOA board can use the basic framework above, many problems often lack a black and white solution. If you find yourself in such a situation, you must know how to maneuver through the grey area. A good way to do this, according to authors Kenneth Blanchard and Norman Peale, is to ask the following questions:

  • Is it legal? Does your proposed action or decision violate any laws at the federal, state, or local level? Additionally, what do your association’s governing documents have to say about the issue?
  • Is it balanced? Think about the long- and short-term aftermath of the decision or action. How will it affect the parties involved?
  • Is it right? How do you feel about the action or decision? Your own moral compass should tell you a lot about a proposed act. If you feel in any way guilty or hesitant, then it is probably not the best course of action.


Dealing With Unethical HOA Members

crossed fingers | unethical hoa membersAn association’s Code of Ethics is useless if members fail to observe it. When faced with members of the community who are behaving unethically, consider the following.


1. Board Members

The Code of Ethics for HOA board members must be followed at all times. But, if one or more board members go astray, it is important to take action.

You must talk to board members who are behaving unethically. Make sure to educate them on the proper and ethical standards, reminding them that they have certain fiduciary duties to fulfill. Peer pressure has known to be very effective, so talking to the offending board member as a group can really help.

If the board member continues to behave unethically or commits an irredeemable action, it is best to remove them from their position. Irredeemable actions can include fraud, embezzlement, and other criminal acts. Check your governing documents for the proper procedure to remove a board member. In some cases, you may need to involve law enforcement.


2. Homeowners

Although the HOA board code of conduct is primarily aimed towards board members, homeowners are not immune to unethical behavior. When homeowners commit unethical acts, they can put the association in jeopardy. Therefore, it is important to discourage unethical homeowners as well. Examples of such behavior include:

  • Consistent violation of the association’s governing documents.
  • Defaulting on regular assessment fees.
  • Harassing or threatening other homeowners, association employees, vendors, or independent contractors.
  • Inflicting damages to the common areas and amenities of the association.

To curb such behavior, your HOA board must strictly enforce the association’s governing documents in a uniform manner. That means implementing any disciplinary actions when necessary.


Following an Ethics Code for HOA Board Members

Everyone needs guidance when performing their duties, association leaders included. This is where the Code of Ethics for HOA board members come in. Without ethical standards, the line between what board members should and should not do tend to become blurred. Still, your moral compass and asking the right questions should help you navigate through ethical dilemmas.



Understanding Deed Restrictions In HOA Communities

Deed restrictions in HOA communities are commonplace, and every homeowner must understand what these are. So, what is a deed restriction anyway? And what can homeowners do about them?


What Are Deed Restrictions in HOA Communities?

What is a deed-restricted community? Simply put, a deed-restricted community is a development with certain limitations on what actions residents can make. Deed restrictions, also known as restrictive covenants, dictate what homeowners can and can’t do with their property. These are requirements that homeowners agree to upon moving into the HOA and, thus, must follow.


Common Deed Restrictions to Watch Out For

deeds | restrictive covenantNo two homeowners associations are exactly alike, both in terms of structure and in terms of deed restrictions. Every HOA has different restrictions in place.

If you want to know how to find out deed restrictions in your community, simply ask the agent or HOA itself prior to purchasing the property. It is important to familiarize yourself with restrictive covenants so that you know what you are getting into.

While not all associations have the same policies, these are some of the most common deed restrictions in HOA communities today:


1. House Color

When it comes to property exteriors, homeowners associations value uniformity. Sticking to a single color palette can elevate a neighborhood’s appeal in an instant. With this type of restrictive covenant, the HOA can prevent clashing colors and vibrant shades.

Color restrictions tend to be specific, too. An HOA can allow one shade of brown but ban a lighter tone of brown. Some even give you lists of permitted or prohibited colors. It can also apply to finishes, such as stone and brick. If your house will have a siding, the HOA may limit your options to a handful of styles.


2. Number of Vehicles

Aside from the property itself, deed restrictions can also apply to your vehicles. The association can impose limitations on how many vehicles you can park in the driveway as well as what type. Some HOAs don’t allow you to park motorcycles, boats, and motorhomes. This is in keeping with the same principle of uniformity, which directly affects the curb appeal of the community and its property values.


3. Number of Bedrooms

Deed restrictions in HOA communities are not limited to the exterior of your property. Some HOAs have restrictions on the number of bedrooms your house can have. Typically, this restriction is due to septic or sewer capacity. Still, not being allowed to build as many bedrooms as you wish can seriously hamper your plans for your dream house.


4. Pet Policies

Pet policies are nothing new to most homeowners associations. A lot of HOAs have restrictions on the breed, size, and the number of pets residents can have, with some HOAs even going as far as banning pets altogether. This is mainly due to the destructive nature of some animals and their propensity to defacate just about anywhere. If you have pets or plan on adopting some, make sure to orient yourself with the association’s pet restrictions.


5. Fences and Other Structures

If you intend on building fences, pools, extra garages, sheds, and other structures, there is a good chance you will need to seek approval from your HOA. There are some HOAs that prohibit them altogether, while others have strict regulations on what exactly you can build and how you can build it. For instance, an HOA can limit your options to white picket fences of a certain height in order to maintain consistency.


6. Renovation Plans

Living in the same home for years on end can grow dull, and renovations are a great way to change things up. However, if you want to alter or add any plans to your home, you may need to clear it with the HOA as well. If your renovation plans significantly veer away from the general style of the neighborhood, the HOA is likely not going to approve them for the sake of uniformity.


7. Cutting Down Trees

Trees add an indescribable beauty to any property or neighborhood. As such, it comes as no surprise that many HOAs prohibit residents from cutting down certain trees. Every association has its own conditions and reasons for restricting the removal of trees. It could stem from a desire to maintain a specific look for the landscape or simply out of concern for the environment.


8. Blocking Your Neighbor’s View

A scenic view can raise the value of any property and attract more residents or tenants. To preserve this, many associations forbid building structures that can obstruct a neighbor’s view. So, if you plan on building a three-story house, you must first make sure it does not impede any views. This type of restrictive covenant is more typical in vacation areas with high tourism.


9. Use of Property for Business

Home offices are generally acceptable, but a common restriction many associations have is banning the use of residential properties for business. This is usually in an effort to limit the number of people (customers) and vehicles going in and out of your home and, by extension, the neighborhood. Although a lot of HOAs enforce this restrictive covenant, it is prevalent in gated or private communities. Residents value safety, and the increased traffic can lead to a higher crime rate, though not always.


How to Fight Deed Restrictions

rules | deed restricted communityHOA communities impose deed restrictions in a general effort to maintain uniformity, boost curb appeal, and raise property values. Sometimes, though, the restrictions can go too far and start to suffocate residents.

It is important to keep in mind that not all deed restrictions are enforceable. Illegal restrictive covenants, for instance, are ineffectual. Vague or outdated deed restrictions may also be deemed unenforceable.

A good example of a restrictive covenant that violates the law has to do with hanging laundry to dry outdoors. Many states have laws protecting homeowners’ right to dry, which means HOAs cannot prohibit members from drying their laundry on a clothesline or rack. If your HOA has a similar restriction, you must check your state laws to see if your association is in violation.

Although changing deed restrictions can come as a challenge, homeowners are not entirely powerless. You can head to your county courthouse to acquire a copy of the restrictive covenant. This usually contains the terms on how to alter the restriction. You can also secure a waiver providing you with permission to go against the restrictive covenant.


Do Deed Restrictions Expire?

If changing the restriction or securing a waiver does not pan out, you can always wait for the restrictive covenant to expire, though this is not always a viable option. In general, deed restrictions do not expire. Some restrictions, though, have expiration dates. You can find out whether a restrictive covenant has an expiration date by heading to your county courthouse. The copy of the restriction should indicate whether or not there is an expiration date.

Even if the deed restriction has an expiration date, though, that does not necessarily mean you are in the clear. Your HOA can still vote to extend the restriction’s time limit.


Why Deed Restrictions Matter

Deed restrictions in HOA communities can turn off a lot of potential homeowners from moving in. However, you must remember that these restrictions exist for a purpose. As a homeowner, you naturally want your investment to flourish. You cannot sell your house at a profit later on if its property value does not rise. And, believe it or not, HOAs play a key role in increasing property values by maintaining curb appeal and consistency throughout the neighborhood.



Everything You Need To Know About HOA Tax Returns

Contrary to what some may believe, homeowners associations do have to file tax returns. The process can be confusing, especially for a new association with little to no experience in the tax arena. To help you out, here is everything you must know about HOA tax returns.

Are HOA Tax Returns Necessary?

If a homeowners association is created as a non-profit organization in its home state, then it is treated as such on a state level. However, on a federal level, homeowners associations are considered corporations. And, just like corporations, HOAs do need to file tax returns, even if the state lists them as non-profits.

The federal government recognizes a handful of HOAs as non-profit organizations, and you can follow their suit, too. It will require registration and approval with the Internal Revenue Services (IRS). You can do this by filing Form 1024 under the tax code section 501(c)(4). It is important to note, though, that filing this form can cost a lot of money, and not all HOAs obtain the recognition even after going through the long process. Additionally, even HOAs that achieve this recognition must still file a tax return.

Homeowners Association Tax Return Forms

form | hoa tax returnWhen it comes to filing an income tax return for homeowners associations, there are two forms that you can use.

The first is Form 1120, also known as the Corporation Income Tax Return form. This is the form traditional corporations typically use. The second is Form 1120-H, which is a variation of the standard form specifically created for community and homeowners associations.

Many associations prefer filing Form 1120-H over Form 1120 for a number of reasons. The first and foremost reason is due to the arduous process involved with filing Form 1120. This form demands a heavy load of information and a great level of detail.

Because HOAs do not utilize advanced bookkeeping techniques, providing all the required information can be burdensome. Moreover, filing Form 1120 means that any leftover income, even those in your reserves, is taxable for that year.

Keep in mind that these two forms, while in many ways different, are not mutually exclusive. That means you can choose to file either form, provided you have the information required. So, if your association has been filing Form 1120 in the past years, it is easy to make a transition to using Form 1120-H instead.

Filing Form 1120 H

Form 1120-H is a popular choice among many homeowners associations because it poses some tax benefits. For instance, filing this form means your HOA can exclude exempt function income from your gross income. That means you must only pay taxes on non-exempt income.

If your HOA qualifies, if any income directly contributed to the generation of non-exempt income, that income becomes deductible. However, you must produce records to support these deductions. Furthermore, it is much simpler to fill out Form 1120-H, only one-page long, and it involves no estimated tax payments for your HOA treasurer to handle.

Under section 528 of the tax code, a homeowners association can file Form 1120-H if it meets the following requirements:

  • 60% of the association’s annual income is obtained from assessments (membership dues and special assessments), fees, and interest
  • At least 90% of the association’s funds go to maintenance or property additions

You can calculate the amount of your association’s tax by deducting $100 from your non-exempt income. Then, you will subject the rest of your non-exempt income to a flat rate of 30%.

HOA Tax Exemptions: Understanding Exempt and Non-exempt Income

Before you can file your HOA tax returns, it is important to know the difference between the two main types of income: exempt function income and non-exempt function income. This way, you will not use the two interchangeably and risk making a mess on your HOA tax return.

Exempt function income, or simply exempt income, comes from sources such as membership dues, special assessments, fees, and interest on fees. This revenue must come from the association’s members distinctly as owners and not as customers.

Non-exempt income, on the other hand, is the income the association earned as a result of services provided to either community members or the general public. This includes revenue earned from laundry services, vending machines, and renting out clubhouses, pools, and other facilities. Because this income is, by definition, not exempt, it is typically taxable. There may be exceptions, though your association will need to consult with a professional as this varies on a case to case basis.

When to File HOA Tax Returns

tax day | hoa tax returnThe deadline to file your HOA tax returns falls on the 15th day of the 4th month following the conclusion of its tax year.

Though, if your association’s tax year ends on June 30, you must accomplish and file your tax form by the 3rd month’s 15th day following the conclusion of your tax year. If you have a short tax year that ends on any day in June, the IRS will consider your fiscal year ending on June 30.

It is normal to encounter difficulties with filing your HOA tax returns. You may not understand some terms or lack sufficient information to accomplish your tax forms on time. If you feel as though you will not meet the deadline, you can file for an extension using Form 7004. This will give you an extension of six months.

Consider Getting Professional Help

It is important to keep clean and comprehensive books to make tax filing much easier for your association. However, not all HOAs have the necessary experience or expertise to maintain accounting records or navigate the complicated world of tax returns.

Instead of trying to figure things out on your own, it is considerably more beneficial and efficient to hire a professional to help. You can turn to a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) or an HOA management company for such services.

Getting the Lowest Tax for Your HOA

When filing HOA tax returns, homeowners associations will naturally want to use the form that offers the most benefits. Many HOAs prefer filing Form 1120-H over Form 1120, while others find that the latter works better for them. If your HOA does not know which form to file, consider computing your taxes using both forms and then filing the one that results in the lowest tax.



Should You Provide HOA Online Support?

Homeowners often have questions or concerns they would like to raise but have no medium to do so in an instant. This is why some HOAs are considering online support. But, is HOA online support even a good idea?


Is HOA Online Support Necessary?

In an HOA, it is only normal for residents to have questions and issues related to their property or the association at large. While some of these concerns can usually be raised during the annual meeting, not all homeowners get the opportunity to voice out their opinions.

In the past, before the advent of the internet, residents had to send in their concerns via hand-delivered letters. Thanks to technological advancements, more and more HOAs are adopting electronic methods of homeowner communication.

While many associations have websites in place, some have started to consider adding online chat support for homeowners. Although this is a noble and helpful undertaking, an HOA board should first consider whether the act is even worth exploring. So, should the board use HOA online support?


The Benefits of HOA Online Support

benefits | hoa email supportAdopting online HOA customer service has some obvious advantages. For instance, it is a service that adds further value to the experience of homeowners in the community.

Homeowners like knowing that their voices are being heard. In fact, they expect it. That is understandable considering they pay regular HOA dues in exchange for a certain level of service. By adding chat support, your HOA board will definitely see a rise in homeowner satisfaction rates.

Another benefit of using online chat support is convenience. Imagine homeowners being able to reach your HOA board in an instant, with a mode of communication right at their fingertips. Perhaps, in the middle of grocery shopping, they think of an idea that they believe will benefit the community.

All they need to do is take out their smartphone and send a chat message before they forget it. No more taking down notes for later and then not even remembering to tell the board about it.

Finally, adding online chat support encourages homeowners to confidently voice out their issues without fear of getting shot down. A lot of residents keep their opinions to themselves out of fear of confrontation.

Not everyone has the courage to bring up a concern that they feel personally affected by. With online support like chatting, your HOA board can open itself up to a world of new suggestions. After all, it is much easier to hide behind a screen.


The Perils of HOA Online Support

Like most things in life, HOA online support also has its drawbacks. If your HOA board decides to pursue the project using your own resources, it will take some time and effort — not to mention plenty of funds.

First of all, setting up your own chat support via a website requires a sizable budget. Web development does not come cheap. It will also take a while before you can launch the platform, seeing as it needs to undergo quality testing to make sure no bugs slip through the cracks.

Of course, you can always turn to existing mediums like Facebook or Twitter. While these can significantly reduce the amount of money required to set up chat support, you will still need personnel to constantly monitor these sites. Facebook has Messenger Bots you can try out.

That means either sacrificing much of your own time to answer messages or paying someone else to do it. Either way, it will take resources that smaller HOAs might not have.

Furthermore, not all boards want to be within reach all the time. Chat support implies a certain level of availability, and most board members simply do not have the extra time to devote to such a task.


HOA Management Online Support

Since setting up online chat support takes plenty of resources, some associations turn to HOA management companies for help. Most HOA management companies offer homeowner communication services as part of their package. These packages usually only include voice and email support.

There are also companies that offer HOA management online chat support where their own employees answer the questions and concerns of the associations they handle.

It is important to note, though, that not all HOA management companies offer chat services. If your HOA is particularly looking for one that offers it, make sure to ask about the service during the selection process. Perhaps you can even raise the possibility of including it in your package if it is not already there.


Alternatives to Chat Support

While online chat support does have its benefits, it is not the only mode of communication HOA boards can use to stay in touch with community members. Homeowners can always send emails, though the board runs the risk of getting bogged down by piles of emails. Some emails may also go straight to spam (always check your spam folder!).

Voice support is an equally viable option for associations. Homeowners can call in and voice out their concerns over the phone. Unlike chat support, though, voice calls imply a certain window of availability. Board members may only be able to answer calls during their free time. After all, board members are only volunteers and also have full-time jobs outside of the HOA.

As mentioned above, a lot of HOA management companies already offer HOA email support and voice support. Some even have text (SMS) support, which is similar to chat support in many ways. If your association can’t swing online chat support, then SMS is the next best thing.


Does Your HOA Need Chat Support?

chat support | hoa email supportIn the end, only you and your fellow board members can answer this important question. Every HOA is different, therefore, you may not have the same needs as others.

If you think voice and email support are enough, then perhaps it would be a waste to add a third avenue.

The HOA board must consider its options carefully, especially if it intends to pursue HOA online support without help from a management company. When deciding, remember to prioritize the needs of the association. Will this benefit the community or will it only serve as another waste of resources?