Homeowners Associations

What is a Homeowners Association?

A Homeowners Association, or HOA, is a non-profit corporation that is democratically run by owners within the community. Owners pool resources (through monthly dues) and collaborate on what to use the money for, whether it be upkeep of common spaces, exterior maintenance of homes, or other priorities within the framework of governing documents and applicable laws.

To learn more about the laws governing HOAs in Washington State, check out WUCIOA (Washington Uniform Common Interest Ownership Act).

Homeowner Involvement in an HOA

Living in an Association comes with responsibilities that continue throughout your time in the home. Paying monthly assessments on time to contribute to the operation and maintenance of the property, preparing for future needs of the Association, and building a vibrant community of connected neighbors making these decisions together. With the help of a professional Association manager and Habitat, owners commit to serving terms on the Board of Directors, volunteering when called, participating in meetings and elections, paying their assessments on time, and building a lasting community.

HOA Resources

For information on best practices from industry experts, please see the guides below:

Our Program Manager of Community Associations is also available to all Habitat Owners with additional questions or concerns about HOAs. If you are interested in additional classes, planning a community meeting, sharing your HOA story, or generally need Habitat’s assistance, please see contact information at bottom of this page.

The following information is provided to assist you in understanding and participating in your HOA with Habitat. These are simple guides and resources to make the HOA more accessible. These are not intended to be legal advice, overrule the governing documents of your HOA, or replace your Association manager.

Governing Structure

This graph helps show the general hierarchy of what governs an HOA, with A having the most power and F having the least:

A. Federal and State Laws and StatutesMultiple Federal and state laws apply to an HOA. They reign over all other documents. Some every HOA manager and Board should be aware of are:
Fair Housing Act, Americans with Disabilities Act, Fair Debt Collections Practices Act, Freedom to Display flag act, and others.
B. Recorded Map, Plat, or PlansThese documents record the boundaries, zoning, property lines, and easements that make up the Association and everything in it.
C. Deed Restrictions, Declaration (CC&Rs, Restrictive Covenant, Ground Lease)This document creates the structure of the HOA. It will contain the legal definition of the property, of each unit, assign what is common, limited common, or personal elements, and set their boundaries. It will include a map, survey or description of those boundaries, who is responsible for their maintenance, replacement, and repair. The CC&Rs establish a contract between the Association and each Homeowner. They establish restrictions adopted for the “good of many” such as architectural controls intended to preserve original design and property values.

In more simple terms: this document lays out the conditions every owner must live by for the common good.
D. Articles of IncorporationThis is the document creates the non-profit corporation that becomes the HOA. It establishes the legal name of the Association and defines it purpose and powers. Usually the Directors on this form were the Declarant Board during the development stage before the builder turned over control of the Association to homeowners.
E. BylawsThis document defines the Board, the Officer roles, responsibilities, tells us how meetings must be conducted, the notice requirements for actions, details how business must be conducted to be lawful and in alignment with other governing documents.
F. Board Rules and RegulationsThese documents clarify the processes, procedures, restrictions and rules in the other governing documents and are those most owners would interact with and know the most. These cannot violate documents that are higher on the hierarchy. Boards cannot make up rules to get around the law.

To learn more about these governing documents, please see our Key Terms section below.

Board Roles and Responsibilities

Your HOA is run by a group of homeowners just like you, who volunteered and were elected by their community to manage the Day-to-Day operations. The Board is made up of different offices or roles so that each person contributes, shares the workload, and a structure of leadership is established.

The Bylaws for your community will dictate a baseline for these roles, definitions, and how businesses may be conducted.

Let’s look at the typical ways Officer roles breakdown:

President

In simple terms, this is the leader of the Board of the Directors and HOA Community

  • Acts as Liaison with Manager
  • Creates agenda for meetings
  • Presides at all meetings of the Board and HOA
    1. Come to each meeting prepared.
    2. Call the meeting to order on time.
    3. Understand parliamentary procedure – the rules you will use.
    4. Follow the agenda.
    5. Take charge – tell everyone the topics and the rules.
    6. Recognize members who are entitled to the floor.
    7. Maintain order throughout the meeting.
    8. Provide for participation and feedback.
    9. Facilitate decision on matters under discussion.
    10. Expedite business fairly.
    11. Establish date, time and place for next meeting.
    12. Conclude meeting at appropriate time.
  • Sets positive example
    1. Make it possible for others to participate
    2. Motivate owners to volunteer
    3. Initiate ideas and activities
  • Signs all official documents of the HOA
  • Performs other duties as required by the Bylaws

Secretary

In simple terms, this is the record keeper for the Association

  • Record votes, actions, keep records
  • Attests to the authenticity of all HOA documents
  • Prepares or is responsible for the Board meeting minutes, including:
    1. All matters brought before the Board (whether adopted, deferred, rejected, etc.) Be brief.
    2. Date and place of meeting.
    3. Time meeting started and adjourned.
    4. Board member attendance.
    5. Motions, actions taken or resolutions (word for word). [Do NOT record other discussion verbatim.]
    6. Who cast a dissenting vote if that person asks you to do so.
    7. Who abstains from voting if that person asks you to do so.
    8. If motion passes by unanimous vote or by consensus.
  • Certifies meeting notices and election results
  • Maintains Book of Resolutions or Policies passed by the Board
  • Routinely inspect records with Management to ensure accurate records keeping

Treasurer

In simple terms, this is the accountant/financial advising for the Association

  • Present financial reports
  • Regularly reviews financial statements with President and Manager
  • Prepares and recommends the annual budget, collection policies and year-end financial statements to the Board*

*can be delegated to the Association Manager but Treasurer should be aware enough to participate and monitor


For more information on best practices from industry experts, please see the guide below:

Meetings

Regular meetings are how your HOA conducts business. Think of them just like a Corporate Board who meets to set the goals of a company in service of the shareholders, so does an HOA Board meet to conduct the business of an Association to serve the owners.

Your Governing Documents will lay out the process of notification, which meetings are mandatory each year, and give guidance on when special circumstances arise.

It is recommended that the Board meets monthly, but that may not be required for your community or covered by your management contract. When you follow basic meeting structure with a solid agenda, Boards can vote and assign action items to themselves, committees, and your Association manager proactively.

It is important to note that there are also rules around how decisions are made, recorded in minutes, and ethical concerns for when a Board takes the business outside of the meeting in into casual discussion or private agreements. Be sure to conduct yourself with high standards to ensure community harmony.

Check out the handouts below to learn more about conducting effective and productive meetings that keep our Association running smoothly and owners engaged and informed.

Keeping Meeting Minutes: The keeping of meeting minutes is the responsibility of the Secretary. Meeting minutes become the record of Association business, and as such, should follow basic required protocols to ensure accurate records. An agenda should be made prior to the meeting to serve as a guide of the items to be discussed and decided.

A template for keeping meeting minutes is below:

Basic Parliamentary Procedures: Below is a simple look at how to conduct effective and accurate meetings with Roberts Rules of Order.


For more information on best practices from industry experts, please see the guide below:

Budgets and Reserves

This simplified breakdown helps show how to treat the different financial requirements of an association:

Operating BudgetReserve Budget
In simple terms, this is the checking account for your Association and carries out the everyday functions of the community such as landscaping, management fees, insurance, and utilitiesIn simple terms, this is the savings account for your Associations and carries out the long-term planning for repair and replacement of big-ticket items such as roofing, siding, asphalt
Set goals
1. What expenses must the Association cover?
2. What other expenses could it cover?
Consult the experts
1. Annual reserve studies are a requirement for the Association and an important forecasting tool
2. Learn to read them and utilize them well to maximize your savings and ability to prepare for big ticket repairs
Determine assessments
1. How assessments are allocated, and the payment frequency is determined by your governing documents
Determine percentage
1. Through your reserve study, you can ensure you are setting aside an adequate annual percentage of your total assessments to ensure enough is ready for use when needed
Look for trends
1. Review past budgets and costs over time and anticipate trends such as cost increases, inflation, increase in maintenance needs, decrease in services
Look for ways to extend life
1. An adequate operating budget that takes into consideration regular, routine maintenance of the items reserve funds are there to replace
2. A roof or gutter system that is never repaired or cleaned will not last as long as projected in a reserve study- leaving you coming up short!
Deferred maintenance only significantly increases the cost of replacement while lowering the length of time things last
Review collection procedures
1. Reduce bad debt, delinquencies and save the community money
2. A “healthy” delinquency rate is under 5%
Review percentages and maintenance
1. With your reserve study, the Board of Directors should perform (at minimum) an annual inspection with management to tour the grounds and go over the condition of all capital costs
Keep an eye on funds
1. Associations should strive to maintain 3 months of budgeted operating expenses at all times including small repair, landscape and lighting work- there is no need to allocate all to reserves when they can be addressed and kept maintained through operating funds
Adjust what needs adjusting
1. You’ve just redone the asphalt on schedule, but what it costs this year is a lot more than the original savings plan estimated- run the numbers and be sure you don’t need to increase funding percentages to replenish and get back on track
Raise assessment or levy special assessments
1. Failing to raise assessments to cover actual necessary expenses is a breach of fiduciary duty
2. Regular minimal increases in dues help avoid larger increases at later date and help owners budget
3. Special assessments should be a last resort funding option and not a regular stopgap for budget shortfalls
Reserves aren’t for correcting budgeting mistakes
1. Do not drain reserve funds as a means to cover budget shortfalls. Ensure your operating budget is fiscally responsible and Reserves are adequate to cover what they require
Negotiate
1. From time to time, every Association should seek bids from various vendors, contractors and hired services they rely on to ensure they are getting the maximum service for the best price- you are not obligated to use the same landscaper or handyman forever- if the service is not adequate or the costs are prohibitive, don’t be afraid to negotiate contract details or send out for alternative bids
Adapt
1. You may not have anticipated a better type of roof shingle, or transitioning to solar pathway lighting, but that doesn’t mean you can’t save for, explore and deploy upgrades to your community when replacement projects come due
Operating Budget vs Reserve Budget

Reserve Study Basics

Who


Every homeowners’ association needs to perform a reserve study and update it regularly

What


A reserve study is a budget and financial planning tool that reports on the current status and projected status of the HOA’s reserve fund

When


A reserve study should be conducted regularly so that your association can adequately save for and plan out large future expenses

Where


A Reserve study can include: Physical property inspections; Financial record analyzation; Maintenance record and previous study review

Why


A reserve study creates equality between all members and mitigates financial emergencies

How


Use a firm that specializes in reserve studies. Look for accreditations such as Reserve Specialist (RS) or Professional Reserve Analyst (PRA)


For more information on best practices from industry experts, please see the guides below:

Maintenance

Some of the maintenance of your home is the responsibility of your HOA and partially what your monthly dues fund (Not every item will apply to every community. You are free to use this guide as it fits to the specifics of your community). This may include:

  • Roof maintenance: cleaning and moss control
  • Walkways, pathways, asphalt
  • Landscaping
  • Snow and Ice removal
  • Siding and sometimes windows

Seasonal maintenance plans are essentially preventive maintenance. However, if you want a comprehensive maintenance plan for your community, it can be beneficial to have a specific maintenance plan for every season.

SeasonRecommended Maintenance
SpringReview all essential documents to review responsibilities

Ensure plans aligns with community goals

Plan maintenance calendar, meeting schedules and community events for the year
– This includes reviewing vendor contracts; insurance coverage and ongoing service needs

Update emergency plan for the community and ensure residents have access

Inspect the property exterior- Roofs; soffits; windows; Gutters; Siding

Schedule common area maintenance: walkways; stairways; carpeting and flooring (for interior common areas)

Meet with landscaper or landscape committee and update plan

Clean up damaged plants and trees; adjust watering schedules; fertilize garden beds; prune bushes and trim trees

Review garbage and recycling
– Are residents following proper practices?
– Do containers need repair or replacement?
– Is service level adequate for community needs?

Pest control
– Ensuring the trash service is adequate and updating the landscaping goes a long way to reduce pest issues. Take the time now to review your plan and any contract in place for maintaining adequate response to keep pests at bay
SummerKeep an eye on irrigation usage

Take steps to follow emergency notices about preserving water or other risks (like fire dangers) – adjust plans accordingly and notify residents

Review and audit practices around any community amenity such as playgrounds, pools or sport courts
– Maintenance, safety, reservation system, community needs, etc.

Plan some fun community events!
– Garage sales, block party, Safe and Sane 4th of July, End of school BBQ are some ideas to connect the community
FallInspect your exteriors

Just like in the Spring, take the time to walk around the property and scan for signs of water damage, roofing issues, weatherstripping around windows and doors

Clean out gutters and storm drains before the wet weather takes a toll and causes damage

Prevent burst pipes by
– Wrapping outdoor faucets
– Insulating vulnerable pipes
– Planning the seasonal shut down of irrigation
– Updating owners on tips they can use within their homes

Fall is the ideal time to plant new shrubs
– If your landscape plan set in the Spring included these updates, now is the best time

Fertilize existing landscape to ensure they have enough nutrients for the upcoming Winter

Inspect for any pests, ensure all control measures are still working and inspect for wasps, rodent burrows and other signs

Gather winter supplies and secure needed contracts now
– Ice scrapers; snow shovels; de-icing agents; snowplow services
WinterReview all seasonal contracts- double check the terms, schedule and timeline of services, main point of contact; the vendors insurance coverage and any warranty information on the service

Add a thick layer of mulch to landscaping to insulate plants and keep soil moist

Insulate outdoor faucets and check pipe insulation throughout garage, crawlspaces and outside walls to avoid freezing
AnnuallyThe Board of Directors, along with the Association Manager, should complete a comprehensive walk-around inspection of the Association grounds, unit exteriors and all capital/reserve expense items

Ensure that the budget and maintenance plan is adjusted accordingly every year to ensure timely, proper maintenance.

Some things that should be scheduled annually are:
– Gutter/roof cleaning
– Tree trimming
– Dryer vent cleaning
– Paint touch up – could include buildings, fencing, parking lot striping
– Fire and safety system inspection- where present, this is a mandatory annual test requirement
– Storm draining system
– Where present, there are annually and scheduled items that are mandatory- so should be regularly scheduled as required
Recommended Maintenance by Season

For more information on best practices from industry experts, please see the guides below:

For more resources related to warranty, home maintenance, and DIY repairs, please see our Warranty, Maintenance & Repairs page.

Insurance

Condo Unit Insurance vs Master Insurance Policy

As the owner of a condo unit, you’re responsible for securing insurance for the interior of the unit you call home. As part of the HOA, you’re also likely partially responsible for the insurance coverage that protects the rest of the building. Your complete coverage is composed of two policies that work together to provide complete protection without any gaps: HO-6 insurance and a master insurance policy. Learning the difference between these policies will help you get the coverage you need.

Condo Unit Insurance:

An HO-6 insurance policy is designed to cover your personal property, liability claims, and gaps that the master policy doesn’t cover. You are responsible for purchasing your own HO-6 policy to cover your belongings and the interior of your unit. While your master condo policy may provide coverage for some items inside your condo, the average is minimal and its essential to understand the limits of coverage. When determining the amount of coverage you need on your HO-6 policy, you’ll want to ensure you eliminate any coverage gaps left by your master policy, including updates and improvements. You are responsible for paying all premiums and deductibles for your HO-6 insurance policy.

Master Insurance Policy:

A condo master insurance policy is designed to provide coverage for the structure of the building and the common areas in and around the building. The master insurance policy is purchased by the owner of the condominium complex or the HOA board. You will likely be responsible for paying a portion of the cost of this policy and of any deductibles required in the event of damage caused by a covered event.

The easiest way to understand how the master policy and HO-6 policy differ is to assume the master policy provides coverage for the space outside your unit and HO-6 coverage protects the inside. Sharing the details of your condo’s master policy with your independent insurance agent will help you determine the amount of HO-6 coverage you need.

Building Cooperative Communities

Here are 5 quick tips to improve communication in your Community Association:

1 – Make sure your contact lists are accurate and up to date

At least once a year, like at the Annual meeting, make sure owners fill out a registration/information form and gather accurate phone numbers, emails, number of residents, number of vehicles, etc. to ensure everything is up to date

2 – Limit yourself

Transparency and regular communication is the key, but spamming people with too many emails, texts, social media updates or flyers on a community board will have the opposite effect. Find a regular, consistent schedule and number of methods that work best for your community.

3 – Keep it simple (in two ways)

(a) Because an HOA is a legal, corporate entity- a lot of the official documents and processes can be difficult to understand for the average layperson. Avoid being overly technical or using too much legal jargon when communicating with residents.

(b) Keep messages short and simple. Don’t go to great lengths with graphics, colors and design and don’t try to answer everything all at once. Use bullet points, simple graphs and refer to other avenues (FAQ page, manager email, meeting minutes, etc.) for residents who want more details.

4 – Be available for responses and feedback

Communication is a two-way street. Create a welcome atmosphere within the community. Board members should post or make available their preferred methods of communication and the hours they are available to devote to this volunteer role. If you are comfortable allowing residents to text you, that is great! But they should be aware you won’t answer during your work hours or outside normal business hours (no 2am texts is great for everyone!). Ensure your manager has communicated to everyone the established response time and procedures- so residents know it may be a business day or two before a call or email is responded to. Don’t ignore requests! Even when you can’t get to everything immediately – you do need to get to it in a reasonable amount of time, even when it’s something you’ve answered before. Be ready with FAQ pages, info flyers, links to online owner portals and other resources when residents ask similar questions and you can’t devote endless hours to every individual request.

5 – Use online resources

If your management company provides an owner portal, the Board should ensure they are regularly reviewing and updating anything that should be on there, is required to be on there or that they want added (like FAQ pages or additional resources). If you have an HOA website or social media page- ensure basic info and tips are “pinned” posts or easily findable permanent posts for everyone to refer to when they need to.


For more information on best practices from industry experts, please see the guide below:

Who is my management company?

Each homeowners association through Habitat is transferred to the control of the owners with financial services management already in place. Each community, through their Board of Directors, has the option to hire additional management services with the same, or with different, Association management companies. Click on the map below to find and get more information about your community. All information provided is accurate to the best of Habitat’s knowledge and is regularly updated when we are notified of changes.

      Key Terms

      Reserve Study: A special, legally mandated, savings account to ensure that adequate funds are available to an Association to carry out mandatory maintenance, repair, and replacement of capital assets (roofing, siding, asphalt, etc). Associations are required to have a trained professional prepare a Reserve study to help with long term planning.

      Assessments: Monies from owners collected monthly to pool funds together to ensure the day-to-day operations and long-term maintenance needs of the association are met. Professional management and elected Board of Directors prepare a budget annually, and owners have an opportunity to vote on approval. Owners should expect that assessments will increase by some amount every year to ensure all costs are covered.

      This term can also refer to the regular, monthly dues owners pay into the Association funds, or they can refer to additional fees, known as “special assessments” that are typically used in the event of budget shortfalls, emergencies or unexpected cost. An Association should make financial planning decisions in the day-to-day operations to avoid the necessity of a special assessment wherever feasible but not avoid charging them when fiscally necessary.

      CC&Rs, Declaration, Governing Documents: The Declaration of Covenants, Conditions & Restrictions (The “CC&Rs” or “Declaration”) defines the contractual obligations of the HOA. The CC&Rs form part of the association’s governing rules. It contains guidelines on how the Association and its Board of Directors should govern to protect the interest of the Association and its members. The CC&Rs also contains the guidelines on the members’ obligations as well. This document is legally binding and is filed with the State. In short, the HOA CC&Rs define the rights of every resident, as well as the organization itself.

      Due to the very nature of these association documents, they are typically the most comprehensive. They are also widely regarded as the most crucial out of all the HOA governing documents. Not all CC&Rs are created equal, though, so the content may vary from association to Association.

      Articles of Incorporation: The Articles of Incorporation (the “Articles” or AOI) identifies the Association as a nonprofit corporation and creates the legal entity of the Association. The Articles are filed with the Secretary of State and will usually contain the Association’s registered office, purpose and powers, membership, voting rights, the liability of directors, and dissolution clauses.

      Bylaws: HOA bylaws are the set of rules or guidelines related to the operation of an HOA Board. HOA Bylaws generally contain the definitions of offices and committees involved with the Board of Directors. The bylaws also include guidelines on voting rights, meetings, notices, and other activities involved with the operation of the HOA.

      Rules and Regulations (“House Rules”): While the CC&Rs contain more general rules pertaining to the organization and its residents, homeowners associations still create a separate document called rules and regulations. These HOA House Rules are generally lengthier and more specific than the CC&Rs.

      Furthermore, these documents are more flexible than the CC&Rs, given that the board has the ability to set a change in motion while only giving members of the community 30 days to review and express concerns about the change.

      The House Rules are set in place as a safety net to include anything that was missed or did not fit into categories in the CC&Rs and bylaws. They are usually smaller considerations regarding common area usage, parking, pets, and general communal behavior. The House Rules help day by day interactions between homeowners, and their families, pets, and properties, in order to make everyone comfortable.

      You must keep in mind, though, that the CC&Rs are higher on the hierarchy of authority than the rules and regulations. In the hierarchy of governing documents, Rules and Regulations are the bottom. Should a rule come into conflict with higher governing documents or state/federal law, those take precedent over the House Rules. When you make a new rule or decide to amend one, make sure it does not clash with your CC&Rs or state laws.


      Additional External Resources

      Community Associations Institute: Articles, blogs, templates and up to date information on Associations. Board members can also become members and have access to classes, lectures and additional resources. There is also a business directory listing everything from accountants, handymen, and more that is useful for any association’s needs.

      Jurassic Parliament: An organization providing classes, resources on Roberts Rules of Order and how mastery of the process makes meetings, decisions and group activities run smoothly and effectively.

      CWD Group: A management firm that represents many Habitat communities. They offer free monthly classes on how to manage your community and topics of interest like understanding insurance, reserve studies and more. These classes are free to any Habitat homeowner who lives in a community that is managed by CWD.

      If your community is managed by a different company, you can check their website for classes and other resources.

      Condominium Law Group, PLLC: A law firm dedicated to HOA law, they offer weekly zoom Q&A sessions (Wednesdays at 10:00 AM) on HOA law and topics of interest and have free resources available to HOAs-including an expansive handbook to use as reference. They also have a YouTube channel where they post their Zoom Q&A recordings. @CondominiumLawGroup.


      Questions?

      If you have questions about Homeowners Associations, please contact Karissa Johnson (Program Manager of Community Associations):

      Email or text preferred, all inquiries will be returned within 2 business days. Please include community name or unit address in all correspondence.


      Sign up for our new seasonal Home and HOA Newsletter!