Homeowners associations are often strict when it comes to the general appearance of their community. They are likely to have rules that limit clutter like stacked boxes, furniture and yard decorations. They may also have restrictions on holidays (such as no shamrocks outside of March or Halloween decorations before October).
In addition, you should ask about an association’s annual budget. Watch out for unusual costs, such as insurance, maintenance fees and reserves.
Your HOA needs to establish what areas are considered common and ensure its members understand the rules surrounding these areas. Stairwells, hallways, laundry rooms, lobbies, basement and roof areas, courtyards, pathways, lawns, playgrounds, and any area that can be used by a majority of the community’s residents are all examples of common areas. Your common area rules must ban members from causing a nuisance in these areas, such as making loud noises or leaving their personal belongings in them.
Some common areas may be restricted to specific owners and residents, such as a rooftop patio or a room in the basement of a building. Similarly, certain leisure facilities such as a swimming pool might only be available to homeowners who pay a higher homeowners association fee to have access to them. HOAs are also responsible for ensuring that these areas are cleaned regularly to keep them looking neat and tidy. Sap on trees, mud from spring storms, and overgrown landscaping are all things that will make your community look uncared for. Regular cleaning of these areas will prevent them from looking unkempt and will help reduce the risk of fire hazards. You might need to set aside money in your budget for these regular maintenance tasks.
The shady retreat of the patio is the ideal place to kick back and relax with family and friends. Create a cozy lounge area with a cushioned outdoor sofa and chair set, and add accent pieces to personalize the space. Then, finish the patio with an umbrella to provide sun or shade, and a side table for drinks. Consider a fire pit to keep things toasty on cool evenings or an outdoor heater for those chillier days.
Patios offer plenty of opportunities for a DIY makeover to refresh worn furniture. Wood and wicker furnishings come in an array of colors to coordinate with the landscaping, deck, home and other decor. A fresh coat of paint can spruce up old metal patio furniture, and you can replace seat cushions and pillows in a wide selection of color schemes and designs, from neutrals to vibrant hues.
Versatile outdoor furnishings save money by avoiding the need to buy additional items for the patio. Look for pieces that serve multiple purposes, such as ottomans that double as extra seating or benches that open to tables for beverages. You can also spruce up a simple bench with a coat of paint in your favorite shade or design pattern.
If your community requires a homeowner’s association review committee to approve changes to patios and balconies, allow for a reasonable amount of time to complete the process. That way, residents can plan ahead to make their desired changes for the summer season. For instance, a patio cover can be installed in a few weeks, while a pergola or screen room may take 30 to 60 days from start to finish.
Some HOAs have gotten a bad reputation for capricious rules, but a well-written and clear set of policies can help prevent problems from arising. By encouraging residents to read the community guidelines and putting forth consistent enforcement, you’ll ensure that your property is maintained at its best. This makes the neighborhood a more pleasant place to live and helps build a sense of community among the residents. If you have a specific question about an HOA rule, contact the board of directors for clarification. They can then determine if the issue should be addressed by the property manager or the homeowner.
Balconies in HOAs are a favorite spot for relaxation and often provide the only view from a high-rise condominium. They are also prone to water intrusion and mold problems. Balconies require special care and inspections.
Unless the governing documents specify that they are private space belonging to one unit, most HOAs regulate what can be kept on balconies. They may not allow awnings, grills, umbrellas or other types of furniture. They might only permit seasonable decorations – i.e. no shamrocks on the balcony in March, and no red, white, and blue decorations in mid-June through mid-November. Generally, only patio furniture and well-maintained freestanding plants with saucers are allowed. Some associations also prohibit the storage of items on balconies.
Some associations require that balconies be covered to prevent water intrusion. They might not allow carpet or tile, which could trap moisture that can damage concrete. In Florida, some communities have eliminated the use of floor coverings on balconies to prevent cracking and mold issues.
Another issue with balconies is the potential for wind-borne debris. When high winds blow, they can carry debris and even structural elements from balconies. These can hit and damage windows and roofs in adjacent units. As a result, many Florida associations have strict rules relative to what can be left on balconies when hurricanes are predicted. Only patio furniture can be kept on balconies, and other items must be brought inside or secured with tarps during storms.
Whether an association has a responsibility to maintain and repair balconies depends on what the CC&Rs say, and possibly state law. In general, associations have responsibility for structural elements of any area they describe as limited common area, but they may be responsible to perform maintenance on limited-use areas like balconies that are attached to individual units if those balconies are described as separate interests (exclusive use areas).
In California, SB 326 requires that balconies be inspected by a licensed architect or engineer. This is in addition to the requirement that associations have for inspecting all exterior elements that they are obligated to maintain and repair. This inspection includes an evaluation of the condition of load-bearing components, associated waterproofing, and an evaluation of expected future performance and service life. The inspection report is then provided to the associations reserve study specialist for consideration when setting dollar reserves for these components.
A pool is a major draw for prospective residents and can increase the value of the community. It’s important to have pool furniture that can withstand the elements and vandalism, as well as guidelines in place for who can use the pool and when. You may also have to ensure the pool is compliant with Americans with Disabilities Act requirements.
Lastly, HOA’s are sticklers when it comes to the overall look of common areas. For that reason, it’s a good idea to only purchase commercial quality furniture. The cheaper furniture found at discount stores and drugstores has a low standard for durability in commercial use, and could lead to liability issues for your HOA if someone is injured. Commercial quality furniture is available at commercial furniture distributors and some big box stores.