Living in a community with a Homeowners Association or a Condominium Owners Association, generally referred to as an HOA or a COA, respectively, has its benefits as well as its drawbacks. No matter where you are from, we’re sure you’ve heard of some HOA or COA horror stories from a friend or family member. Although these stories can be intimidating for those looking to purchase property within an HOA or COA, oftentimes, these stories are not necessarily the norm for all Associations. In fact, while the vast majority of people living in a community Association are satisfied with their Association, according to a 2022 study by the Foundation for Community Association Research, there are many misconceptions about Associations perpetuated not only by homeowners or condominium owners, but even by Association board members themselves. In this article, we hope to dispel some of the many misconceptions surrounding Associations, and provide some clarity as to what an HOA or COA actually does and how they operate.
Misconception #1: An Association exists to control its residents and enforce unnecessary rules and regulations-even at the expense of the community and its residents.
First, let’s look at the ultimate purpose of an HOA or COA. An HOA or COA develops and enforces regulations and guidelines for its members, with the ultimate goal and purpose of providing structure to the community, preserve and enhance the community’s property values, and make sure the community is a pleasant and well-maintained place for its residents to live. Simply put, an Association exists for its members and for the community they inhabit. A good Association, run by a responsible and reasonable Board, is an incredible asset for their community and its residents, and can accomplish great things, making the community an overall better place to live.
Now, this is not to say that all Associations are “good” Associations. Some Associations fail to comply with statutory requirements, or do not take into account the opinions of the members. The good news is; there are countless protections and rights provided to homeowners and condominium owners while allow owners to hold their Association accountable for possible misdeeds. For example, under Florida Statute 720.303 for HOAs, and under Florida Statute 718.111 for COAs, unit owners have the right to request and inspect the official records of the Association. You can learn more about this right in our blog regarding HOA and COA records requests linked here. As another example, under the Fair Housing Act, it is illegal to prohibit individuals from moving into or renting in a neighborhood on the basis of sex, religion, disability, race, nationality, or familial status. If an HOA or COA violates this act, the Association may have severe charges pressed against it.
Furthermore, if you as an owner find yourself in dispute with your HOA or COA, you can hire an experienced Association law attorney review your situation and develop a strategy to assist you in resolving the dispute. The attorneys at The Orlando Law Group represent homeowners and condominium owners in Orlando, Waterford Lakes, Altamonte Springs, Winter Garden, Lake Nona, St. Cloud, Kissimmee, and throughout central Florida.
Misconception #2: Associations exist only to make money and to levy high assessment fees against its members.
Many homeowners ask, why do I have to pay HOA or COA fees? And, where is that money going towards? When you purchase property located within the jurisdiction of an HOA or COA, you become a member of that Association, responsible for paying community expenses called Assessments or, more commonly, referred to as HOA dues or fees. These contributions are collected on a fixed time schedule (such as on a monthly, quarterly, or annual basis) to pay for standard maintenance and upkeep of the community’s facilities and common areas, as well as to improve the community by implementing new facilities and features. Simply put, HOA fees or dues provide the funding which allows the HOA or COA to enforce its rules and regulations as well as carry out its obligations, with the ultimate goal of making the community a more enjoyable place to live. Further, note that Association board members are not paid for serving as board members – serving on the board is a fully voluntary position for most Associations.
As such, HOA or COA funds have a clear purpose for being collected – they are instrumental for allowing Associations to run smoothly and efficiently, and to fulfill their responsibilities under the HOA’s governing documents. As a homeowner, you have a right to request and inspect your Association’s financial records to find out exactly where your assessment dues are going. HOAs and COAs alike are required to keep and maintain their financial records and to foster transparency within their community. If you are concerned or simply want to know what your money is being used for, you can submit a records request to your HOA or COA. You can learn more about this right in our blog regarding HOA and COA records requests linked here. To learn more about why your HOA and COA fees are being directed in certain ways, check out our blog “All About Homeowners and Condominium Owners Associations.”
Misconception #3: HOA or COA rules and regulations cannot be changed or amended.
HOA and COA rules and regulations as well as the governing documents of an Association are not set in stone, and can absolutely be amended or changed. As with many things, with time, certain rules or restrictions become outdated or no longer make sense. An Association and its members may seek to change these rules by amending them.
Each governing document is subject to their own amendatory procedure. Typically, amending the declaration or bylaws requires some form of an owner vote, whereas rules or regulations can be most often amended by the Board without an owner or member vote being necessary or required. Neither Chapter 718 or Chapter 720 of the Florida Statutes contains any requirement for owners to approve or vote on rules and regulations, assuming rulemaking authority has already been granted to the board.
However, this does not mean that owners have no say in the rules and regulations their Board chooses to implement. Association members have the ability to attend board meetings where they can share their opinions and raise any concerns regarding any agenda items the board plans to vote on, including rules and regulations. During a board meeting, property owners can submit a written request to amend or remove certain rules. The board will then review the request independently and come to a conclusion. The best board members will take the time to periodically review their governing documents to ensure everything is satisfactory and current. To learn more about amending HOA/COA documents, check out our blog on Amending HOA Documents and the Unlicensed Practice of Law here.
Misconception #4: Having a management company essentially replaces Association Board Members.
Many Associations, especially larger Associations, hire a management company to assist in the daily operations of the Association. As we previously noted, board members are not paid to serve on the Board, and the position is voluntary. Board members may have their own careers to attend to, and it may be impossible for board members to dedicate 100% of their time to the Association. This is where a management company may step in and take on some of the day-to-day operations of the Association, such as with accounting, property management, dealing with violations, and corresponding with unit owners. For example, perhaps an Association hopes to make the accounting and collections process more efficient and chooses to hire a management company to assist them.
Management companies can be wonderful tools for Associations to utilize in ensuring their daily operations run smoothly and efficiently; but they do not take the place of board members. Management companies cannot make decisions on behalf of the board; cannot amend HOA or COA documents, and cannot pursue legal action on behalf of the Association. The Association’s board members work in conjunction with the management company to improve the operations of the Association and better the community. As such, management companies serve not to replace board members, but instead to assist them in fulfilling the responsibilities of the Association and in serving their residents.
The attorneys at The Orlando Law Group represent homeowners and condominium owners as well as HOAs and COAs in Orlando, Waterford Lakes, Altamonte Springs, Winter Garden, Lake Nona, St. Cloud, Kissimmee, and throughout central Florida.
If you are a homeowner, condominium owner, or an Association board member, please reach out to our office at 407-512-4394, fill out our online contact form or save this information in case you ever find yourself or a loved one needing to use it. We provide representation and legal services for both homeowners and Associations alike.
If you have questions about anything discussed in this article or other legal matters, give our office a call at 407-512-4394 or fill out our online contact form to schedule a consultation to discuss your case. We have an office conveniently located at 12301 Lake Underhill Rd, Suite 213, Orlando, FL 32828, as well as offices in Seminole, Osceola and West Orange counties to assist you.