- On March 10, 2020
10 Things to Consider Before Moving into a Community Association
New Jersey has an ever-growing number of condominium associations and homeowners’ associations, collectively referred to as “community associations.” Community associations are attractive to all different types of homeowners, whether it be the appeal of less lawncare or appealing amenities. Owning a home in a community association, however, comes with certain considerations that a buyer should consider.
Here are some tips to consider before making the decision to move into a community association:1. Read the Association’s Governing Documents.
A community association will have a recorded set of Governing Documents which describe how the association is run, set forth rules and regulations, and provide valuable information to you regarding certain procedures. The association’s property management company or your realtor should be able to provide you with a copy of the Governing Documents before purchase.2. Confirm Association Responsibility v. Your Responsibility.
Generally, owners of a condominium are responsible for the maintenance and repair of items that are located inside the unit. Home owners in an HOA are typically responsible for anything that is on your single-family property. The association is responsible for the maintenance, upkeep, and repair of all common areas in the community. But each community has different specific details in their by-laws, and you may be surprised at what falls under your responsibility. Things like windows, exterior siding, decks, and even roofs, may be an owner’s responsibility upon further inspection of the association’s by-laws and you should consider that in connection with your decision to buy.3. Changes to Your Home Must be Approved by the Association.
You most likely need approval from the association’s Board of Trustees for any structural or cosmetic modifications that you may want to undertake. This definitely applies to major renovations like moving a wall, but it can also apply to much smaller changes, like repainting your front door a particular color. In other words, don’t assume that once you move in you will be able to change everything. Particularly in condominium associations, there is an emphasis put on maintaining architectural and aesthetic consistency within the community. After move-in, make sure to err on the side of caution and request Board permission before undertaking modifications to your unit or home.4. Ask About Rental Restrictions.
If there is any possibility that you may choose to rent out your unit or home, you need to find out what the association’s rules are regarding rentals. Many associations have minimum lease durations (i.e. one year, for example), sub-letting prohibitions, and may also prohibit listing your unit or home for rent on sites like Airbnb. In addition, many associations have a “cap” on the number of rentals permitted in the association.5. Pet-Restricted and Pet-Prohibited Communities.
Many community associations have rules in place regarding pets. Some associations place limits on pets (i.e. one dog or cat per unit, weight/size limit on dog, no pets in the elevators, etc.), while others prohibit pets altogether. There are certain laws in place to protect owners that need an assistance animal, and that require an association to permit an accommodation accordingly. Having a non-approved pet in a pet-restricted or pet-prohibited community association can be a fineable offense.6. Be Prepared to Make Timely Maintenance Payments.
Community associations assess maintenance fees to all owners. These fees are utilized to run the community and can be to provide services such as lawn care, pool maintenance, and snow removal. Check the due date of the monthly maintenance payment, and be prepared to pay it each month, and on time. Many associations have provisions in their by-laws that allow them to assess late fees for missed or late maintenance fee payments, and strict collection procedures that may allow for the collection of missed payments by way of liens, judgments, and even foreclosures.7. Maintenance Fees May Increase.
Make sure to ask what the current maintenance fees are set at and ask how often they have increased over time. Some associations increase their maintenance fees slightly every year, while others manage to go a decade or more without increasing fees. You’ll want to know what the prior history has been to make the determination that you are able to afford to live there.8. Ask About Special Assessments.
Ask the property management company or your realtor if the association has any special assessments coming up. Special assessments may periodically be assessed to all owners for the association undertaking a project that is outside of the normal operating budget or for undertaking a project that the association cannot otherwise fund. This may be for situations such as roof replacements or siding replacements in a condominium association. Special assessments can quickly add up, so be sure to find out if there are any foreseeable special assessments coming down the pipeline.9. Be Aware of Parking Limitations.
Particularly in condominium associations, you may have limited parking. Take note if you will have a garage and/or driveway, if you have assigned street or parking lot spaces, and where street parking is permitted. Due to limits on parking availability, many associations employ the use of a parking system, such as a decals that goes on cars, and each owner is given a certain amount of said decals. When you have visitors, they may struggle to find parking anywhere near your unit.10. Avoid Getting Fined.
Many community associations have provisions in their by-laws that permit the imposition of fines, under certain circumstances, for non-compliance with the association’s rules. And many associations take enforcement of their rules very seriously. If your association has a rule that garbage cans must be taken in at a certain time or that smoking is not permitted in common areas and you do not abide, for example, you may receive a violation notice and be in danger of being fined. Depending on the association’s Governing Documents, fines may quickly add up – some associations allow fines upwards of $50.00 per day for violations that are not rectified, as long as the association follows the proper protocol of notifying an owner and providing notice of Alternative Dispute Resolution availability, when applicable.
Living in a community association can provide many perks and be a great experience for many homeowners. Be sure to consider these tips when contemplating purchasing a home in a community association so that you can make an informed decision as to whether a particular association is the right fit for you and your family.
Kaitlyn R. Campanile, Esq. is an associate attorney at Davison, Eastman, Muñoz, Paone, P.A. in the Business Law and Litigation department. She has experience representing condominium associations and homeowners’ associations throughout New Jersey. She may be reached at (732) 462-7170.