Dr. HOA,
I recently moved into a new townhome community, which has a homeowners association. When I closed escrow, I received a stack of rules for my community. How important is it that I read all of this paperwork? I want to be a good neighbor, but in reviewing the first few pages, there is so much legal jargon that it is difficult to read, and a lot of information does not seem to be applicable to me as a homeowner. 
—Angela F.

Dear Angela,
Congratulations on the purchase of your new townhome. Reviewing and understanding your association’s governing documents, including the covenants, conditions and restrictions, or CC&Rs, bylaws, rules and regulations and any community policies or board resolutions, is extremely important as a homeowner living in a homeowners association.

Typically, I would recommend that these documents be reviewed prior to signing the purchase and sale agreement for a property, since their contents should be considered when determining whether a particular property fits your needs.

Nonetheless, if you did not have the opportunity to review the documents prior to closing escrow, I would advise that you thoroughly review them as soon as possible. The CC&Rs are part of the deed to the home and are legally binding.

Buyers purchasing a home in the community are agreeing to the obligations and restrictions set forth in the document when they buy their homes by signing a purchase and sale agreement and closing escrow on their homes.

Reviewing CC&R documents cover-to-cover does not sound exciting and can seem confusing and daunting, but it is critical that homeowners understand the contents and their obligations as a homeowner in a given community.

I often work with homeowners who have not reviewed or do not understand their obligations, which ultimately leads to unnecessary aggravation and frustration, not only for the homeowner, but also for the association’s board of directors and community manager.

Often times, I receive calls from homeowners after they begin receiving letters for volitions of rules that they were unaware of.

I have seen these violations lead to large fines and even lawsuits, and the majority of the time, the courts find in favor of the homeowners association, since homeowners agreed to abide by the obligations set forth in the CC&Rs when they purchased their property.

It is a shame, because most of the time these issues are entirely avoidable if the homeowner would simply have taken the time to review and understand their obligations.

Knowing how important the association’s governing documents are and how shockingly few homeowners review and understand them, I often recommend that association’s work with their community managers to draft a shorter “overview” of their governing documents, highlighting homeowners’ obligations.

This overview is by no means meant to take the place of complete set of CC&Rs, but it’s a great tool to highlight important sections, which the homeowner can use as a reference tool moving forward.

Hopefully your association’s management company is providing new homeowners with a community welcome package.
This CC&Rs overview is a great resource to include in the package.

If you would like more information regarding critical items that I recommend be included in these packages, or part of a self-managed association I would be happy to assist you. If a homeowner has any questions regarding his or her CC&Rs, contact your association’s management company or you are always welcome to contact me.

In closing, I cannot stress enough how important it is that homeowners review and understand their association’s governing documents, preferably prior to purchasing the property, since these documents and their contents are legally binding.

Not only is it a homeowner’s obligation to abide by the rules and requirements, it is the association’s obligation to enforce the rules.

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