Property Management Blog

What to Know About Home Owners’ Associations (HOAs) Before Buying

System - Sunday, June 21, 2015

Housing Community

When looking to buy a home, it is important that you first do some research about your prospective community’s HOA, if there is one. HOAs aren’t for everyone, but many people enjoy the benefits of living in a planned community, so a little homework is worth the time to find the community that’s the right fit for you.

Before You Buy

Before you move into a community that has a HOA, make sure you can understand and agree to abide by the rules and regulation unique to each community.  Some common guidelines may give the HOA the authority to have oversight of:

  • the color of your front door/siding or house trim
  • the height and type of fence on your lot
  • landscaping changes
  • additions to your home like pools, decks, etc.
  • the type and number of pets allowed
  • the parking of trailers, campers and commercial vehicles
  • the exterior maintenance of your lawn and house

Most homeowner and condo associations require that owners submit applications when owners are planning to make exterior changes to their lots and homes. This ensures that the changes are in accordance with the association’s governing documents and avoids the potential for having monetary charges assessed for unapproved changes.

 While You Live There

HOAs exist to provide for representational government of a community and to ensure that the expenses of the association are met in a financially sound manner. That means that dues need to be collected from each owner to pay for items like landscape maintenance, insurance and the cost of maintaining amenities such as walking trails, pools and playgrounds. Paying your dues in a timely manner is important to keep the community up and running smoothly and the Boards of HOAs are required to make sure that all funds owed to the association are collected. Failure to pay may cause the delinquent account to be turned over to the community’s attorney for collection. This is not an avenue most Boards like to pursue, so your home purchase budget should include the cost of the annual assessment (Dues). While HOAs suffer from a lot of bad press, they  are not intended to lessen the enjoyment of owning a home governed by an HOA. The volunteer Boards of these associations are required to enforce the rules and regulations as written to maintain property values and ensure the smooth running of the community’s business. Sales of homes in HOAs remain strong partly because potential purchasers know that someone will be looking out for their interests by keeping the neighborhood neat and attractive.

When You Move Out

When the time comes that you decide to move out of your HOA governed community, there are a few loose ends to tighten before leaving. Make sure any and all improvements/alterations to the exterior of your house and lot were approved by the HOA. If not, you’ll need to apply even though the changes were already made. Having approved applications on file avoids potential violations that may cause a purchaser to think twice before buying your home.

Once this is taken care of, make sure your Dues account is current. If not, all past due assessments and late fees will need to be paid by you at the time of closing. Finally, make sure you or your Realtor orders a Disclosure or Resale Packet to be given to the purchaser, so they too will know all the ins and outs of your community before they determine if your HOA is right for them.

No Solicitors!

System - Monday, April 27, 2015

What can you do as an Association to prevent solicitation in your community?  Many people start with posting “No Soliciting” signs on their property, but what does that do, and what legal rights do you have to enforce it?

Solicitation laws are handled at a municipal level, and therefore the laws on how to handle a solicitor can vary from county to county.  Here we will discuss the law as it pertains to Prince William and Fauquier Counties as those are the places we manage the most communities.   

There are some similarities to the law in these two counties, for example, both counties define a solicitor as “someone travelling from house to house, selling or attempting to sell any goods, services, or accepting orders for future goods or services, or to accept or request donations for a charitable purpose.”   Both counties require those soliciting door to door obtain a permit and carry it with them to exhibit to any resident.    Additionally, both counties prohibit door-to-door activity from one-half hour after sunset and one-half hour before sunrise, unless done so by appointment.  Door to door activity, not restricted by the same guidelines (true for both counties) and not considered a solicitor would be:

  • Sales related to fresh farm products and newspapers.
  • Political party or candidate activity.
  • Charitable, educational or religious activity.

Now that we have discussed who and what a solicitor is, what can you do about it?

In Prince William County, a “No Soliciting” sign is not enforceable, however, a properly placed “No Trespassing” sign is, even if the solicitor is permitted by the county.  Additionally, a “No Trespassing” sign at the entrance of community with private streets (those not maintained by VDOT) can be enforced.  If someone disregards these signs, contact the police department, as violators risk losing their license and could be charged with Trespassing. 

In Fauquier County, a “No Soliciting” sign placed on your property is enforceable.  However, not so if placed at the entrance of your community, as it is the homeowner’s individual right to refuse or permit solicitors on their property.  If you encounter someone attempting to solicit at your home, despite the proper signage, contact the police. They will escort them off the property and violator could lose their license and face Trespassing charges.

We hope we addressed your concerns about Door- to- Door Solicitors.  If you have any specific questions regarding solicitation laws, please contact your local jurisdiction. 

If a Tree Falls?

System - Thursday, March 12, 2015

If you live in the Northern Virginia area and have been witness to the storms we have in Spring, you have no doubt seen some trees come down. If you were lucky enough to not have yours damaged, then it was more than likely a close neighbor. The immediate effects of these fallen trees was a widespread loss of power for 2-7 days, depending on where you lived, and some damaged to personal property. This leave the question, who is to blame? Well since this directly affects the HOA Management industry we figured we'd chime in...Falling Tree

The underlying theme here, as with most liability cases, is negligence. The general rule is that if your tree falls on your neighbor's property, even if it causes injury to a person, or damage to property, you will not be liable so long as you are not negligent. Furthermore, if the tree fell during a severe storm like we have had, one can claim that this was an "An Act of God". But what constitutes negligence?

The answer depends on all of the facts. Did the tree owner have any knowledge that the tree was a potential hazard? Should the tree owner have noticed that the tree was not in good health due to dead limbs? Did your neighbor complain about the safety of your tree, and yet you took no action? If the answer is yes to any of the proceeding questions questions then you could be potentially negligent in maintaining your property and would be responsible for the repair and clean up to your neighbors property. 

The courts have determined that, in so many words, a healthy tree does not ordinarily fall of its own weight without some exterior force being directed against it and that land owners have a duty to periodically inspect trees on their property to determine whether they are safe to continue to stand. 

In conclusion, the overriding lesson here is for all of us to be responsible homeowners. We don't need the courts to tell us this. We can't control storms, or other Acts of God, but we can do what is right. That means taking all steps necessary to make sure your home is safe and that you are doing what is in your power to make sure your neighbors is too!

What Exactly is a “Board Resolution”

System - Thursday, March 12, 2015

Since Board positions are volunteer, and Board members are not professionally trained in association management, it is necessary for us to assist in the implementation of policies and procedures of the associations we manage. Since changing your original governing documents is nearly impossible in most associations in Virginia, the most common method to amend your documents is through a Board Resolution. However, when is it appropriate for a homeowners’ association board to draft a resolution?  Resolutions are more formal than a simple motion.  They should be used whenever the issue is complex, lengthy or formal.  Resolutions are most commonly used when the board must enact rules or formalize policy.  The resolution becomes the basis for consistency around rules and policy and it provides a formal record of the board’s decision.

The process of writing a resolution requires a very thorough approach and is in itself a litmus test for the basis of the resolution.  It should spell out: who, why, what and how.  We’ll approach this using the example of a community in which the CC&Rs state that if a homeowner violates the rules, they will be subject to fines and other penalties levied by the association.  Unfortunately the community’s documents stop short and does not provide further detail outlining how the CC&R’s will be enforced, what the fines will be, or when will they be levied.   Under this set of circumstances, a resolution can be written to provide more clarity for both the homeowners and the board.

Who – A resolution should cite the specific authority of the board to make a rule or policy on the subject.  Citing state statute, the association’s bylaws or CC&R’s. Cite specific sections whenever possible. For Example;
WHEREAS, Article VIII of the bylaws gives the board of directors the authority to adopt, publish and enforce rules and regulations governing permitted and prohibited uses and restrictions within the association, and…..

Why – It should also spell out the purpose of the resolution. Why is this rule or policy needed? For Example;
WHEREAS there is a need for a clear and consistent enforcement policy governing all homeowners and the board,

What and How-  The resolution concludes with a clear statement (including specifics) of the new policy or rule. For Example;

“NOW THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the board will enact the following covenant enforcement policy as follows:

  • Any homeowner wanting to report a violation of any covenant governing the association must do so in writing addressed to the board.
  • Upon receipt or notification of the alleged rule violation(s), the board shall review the complaint and, upon determination that a violation(s) has occurred, shall give to the homeowner determined to be in violation informal notification by way of either a telephone call, personal visit, or note on the door.
  • Following informal notification, if the offending homeowner has not, within a reasonable time corrected the violation(s), the homeowner will receive a written letter stating the specific violation, action needed to remedy the violation and warning of possible penalty.  
  • If, following the above, the violation(s) still remains uncorrected, a second written notice shall be given to the offending homeowner offering a hearing date at which time the board shall address the violation(s)
  • The board will render a decision in writing and deliver it to the offending homeowner within 10 days following the hearing.  Should the board find the offending homeowner to be in violation, a $5.00 a day penalty retroactive to the hearing date shall be assessed.  Note:  should the offending homeowner remedy the violation(s) prior to the receipt of the board’s decision, the matter shall be deemed closed and any penalty cost shall be waived.
  • If, after 14 days, the violation(s) still remains uncorrected, the board shall have the right to remedy the violation(s) by way of the provisions set forth in Section XXII of the declarations, and the cost of which shall be bore by the offending homeowner. 
  • The expenses of any corrective action or enforcement of this declaration, if not paid by offending homeowner within 30 days after written notice and billing, may be filed as a lien.”
Whenever an HOA boards feels that a new rule or clarification is needed, they should go through the process of writing a resolution. Each step of the resolution process helps the board test their theory about the new rule and if it is indeed needed and will serve its intended purpose. We always recommend that we hire an attorney to prepare a Resolution since it will be included with the Associations Governing Documents.

Running a Home Operated Business in your HOA

System - Thursday, March 12, 2015

From time to time we receive calls at our office from Association residents reporting that someone in the neighborhood is operating a business out of their home and effectively turning their quiet residential streets into a booming commercial district. Ok, ok, we are exaggerating about the severity of the situation but the reality is, no one wants to see their community affected by increased traffic, activity, and noise that can be caused by an overambitious entrepreneur/neighbor. But what exactly can the HOA do if this occurs?

Working Mother

Well, as always the first place to look is your community's governing documents and to State and local laws on the subject. The Virginia Property Owner's Association act does not explicitly prohibit home based businesses, or give any mention of them. Therefore, the first place you should turn is your association's governing documents. In our experience, though most associations will prohibit commercial vehicles, and any sort of commercial signage, they will only go as far as deferring the residential zoning code when it comes to in-home business restrictions. 

To address this specific issue we will turn to the local zoning codes of a city where we manage a number of associations, Warrenton, Virginia. The local zoning restrictions of Warrenton are fairly typical of localities across the State of Virginia. If you live in Warrenton, Virginia, and depending on your specific zoning, your HOA will, in essence prohibit either "Home Occupations", or take it a step farther and prohibit "Home Business" unless a special permit is taken out by the homeowner. If you do happen to live in Warrenton, the definition of the above is as follows:

 Home Occupation:  Any occupation or activity conducted solely by a member of the family residing on the premises which is incidental and secondary to the use of the premises for dwelling, and in general an occupation where services are performed in such a way that visits to the premises by members of the public are infrequent and that the character and intensity of the use is compatible with the quiet nature of residential neighborhoods, provided that (a) not more than the equivalent area of one quarter (1/4) of the total interior finished floor space of the dwelling shall be used for such purpose; (b) that such occupation shall not require external or internal alterations, or the use of machinery or equipment not customary for purely domestic household purposes; (c) that no commodity is stored or sold, except as are made on the premises; (d) there shall be no group instruction, assembly or activity, or no display that will indicate from the exterior that the building is being utilized in part for any purpose other than that of a dwelling. When within the above requirement, a home occupation includes, but is not limited to the following: art studio; dressmaking; home offices, teaching, with musical instruction limited two 2) pupils at a time.  However, a home occupation shall not be interpreted to include the conduct of barber shops and beauty parlors, retail stores, nursing homes, medical offices, clinics, convalescent homes, rest homes, child care centers, day care centers or nursery schools, restaurants, tea rooms, tourist homes, massage parlors or similar establishments offering services to the general public.

 Home Business:  Same as Home Occupation, except that a home business is permitted to have up to three full-time equivalent employees who do not reside in the dwelling in addition to any family employees who reside on the premises.

While most Home Occupations are allowed by right and require no other action on the part of the homeowner, Home Businesses are only allowed by the authority having jurisdiction by way of a special permit. 

So the short answer to our question most cases Home Occupations/Businesses are in fact allowed if the locality allows them to exists and if the required permits are received. As a general rule, most associations do not try to get the way of local zoning code.

ARMI HOA Website

System - Sunday, February 22, 2015

Welcome to the new ARMI HOA blog page! If you’re reading this then you’ve found your way to our new and improved HOA website. We hope the many changes you find will make it easier and faster to find what you need. Aside from now being its own site separate from ARMI’s rental property management services, we have added easy to find portals and shortcuts to take you where you need to go. As we continue to add features, we’ll be requesting your feedback for improvements. Tell us what works and what doesn’t as this site is meant to benefit you as the Board member or owner in your community. 

Don’t miss our HOA FAQ page which we hope provides answers to many of your questions about living a community with a condo or homeowners association. Who does what and why, and where does all that money go? What’s an ARB, an ARC or a covenants committee? What’s a Disclosure Packet and when would I need one? Check back for updates as we answer those burning questions and many more.

Thank you to our homeowners and Board members who have provided input and testimonials to our new site. We look forward to working with you to continually improve communication and homeowner resources as we move forward. 

Contact Us

Warrenton Office
10 Rock Pointe Lane
Warrenton, VA 20186

Office: (540) 347-1901
Fax: (540) 347-1900

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