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What You Should Know Before Joining a Common Ownership Community

Posted by Jane F. Bolin, Esq. | Nov 18, 2015 | 0 Comments

HOAs and condo associations have a unique set of operational, legal and financial issues you must be aware of before you decide to move in

Condominium associations, most homeowner associations and cooperative housing corporations (“co-ops”) are all common ownership communities. While each runs differently, they're all regulated by State law and have binding rules that apply to all members. Buying a condominium unit or lot or purchasing a share in the building or land in the association automatically makes you a member. So before you take the plunge and make a purchase, here's what you need to know:

1. Your association will have rules—make sure you can abide by them

Make sure you have reviewed the association rules before you purchase your new property. Rules differ by community but if the rules are particularly restrictive or not conducive to the lifestyle you desire, you might want to consider buying elsewhere.

  • Look out for any potential restrictions on how many guests can be in common areas at once.
  • Pay special attention to rules concerning possible fines if you were to violate any the rules as well as foreclosure for nonpayment of dues.
  • Be sure you are aware of the process that is in place for adding or updating rules in addition to when the HOA meetings are held.

Also be sure to look into past board meeting minutes and notes for potential assessments and other issues. A Zillow article highlights the story of one couple who failed to take this precaution. The board meeting notes documented a construction defect issue whose repairs would cost $850,000, which meant a special assessment of $7,500 per unit. This couple didn't find out until the first board meeting—three days after they closed.

2. The association may have fees—make sure you can pay them now and in the future

When reviewing the association's rules, make sure to ask about fees as well. These fees should be compared against other communities or complexes you are considering as they could affect your decision. Also keep in mind how increases are determined, how often they occur and how much they have been raised in the past. Make sure to have full understanding of what the fees specifically cover as well.

The same Zillow article highlights the story of another gentleman who found affordable accommodations in a restricted-income unit. But because the unit was older, some capital items had to be replaced—including the roof and elevator. His HOA fees soared so high they eventually began to exceed his mortgage payments. So while reviewing the rules, meeting notes and fee schedule, also look into any recent studies that may indicate the need for upcoming repairs and replacements.

3. A purchase doesn't mean full ownership—make sure you get approval before making changes

If you are looking to make any additions or renovations to your place, whether it's tearing down a wall, adding an addition or any other potentially disruptive decision, it is essential that you get approval in advance. Even if these actions aren't explicitly stated as “forbidden” in your rules, that doesn't mean the association allows them.

4. Be mindful of under-management—make sure the association is active

While you might hear horror stories about associations that over-manage their communities, the opposite problem is also possible. There are some communities where no one cares to maintain the buildings, make repairs or listen to the complaints of their tenants.

Your community association can be your new home's greatest asset or your worst nightmare. Be sure to properly evaluate the community association and any potential problems before purchasing your next home. If you have legal questions about joining a community association in Florida, contact PeytonBolin today for answers.

About the Author

Jane F. Bolin, Esq.

Founding Member, Managing Partner


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