Although the often dreaded Homeowners Association (or “HOA”) has been around for a long time, its widespread use goes back only a few decades. Prior to, say, 1980, it was common for new subdivisions to have covenants, but no reasonable way to enforce them. This begs the question; “why have covenants if they can’t be enforced?” Enter the HOA, an entity designed and created to answer that question.
Many early covenants had provisions that after 30 years or so the majority of homeowners would have to petition to renew them. Some covenants had the opposite provision — i.e., they automatically renewed unless a majority of homeowners agreed to abandon them. All covenants, whether still valid or not, are recorded and thus provided with other title docs.
Let’s say you live in a subdivision with still enforceable covenants but no HOA. The only way to enforce the covenants against a homeowner who is in violation of them would be for one or more homeowners to file a civil suit against the offender. Obviously, that is not practical, which is probably why developers of new subdivisions started including an HOA in their CC&Rs — Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions.
Some older subdivisions such as 6th Avenue West have created “neighborhood associations” with voluntary dues (usually under $100 per year) which are used to create community through various activities, such as picnics and newsletters. That sense of community can in turn contribute to social pressure for members of the community to abide by the provisions set forth in the covenants.
Lakewood Estates, a 1980s subdivision across Jewell Avenue from White Fence Farm, has taken this approach a step further. This voluntary HOA exerts pressure and has even shown a willingness to take legal action against residents who violate provisions of their older, but still existing covenants.
What neighborhood associations can’t do is to levy fines against homeowners. HOA fines can become liens against the property, too, so they always get paid, along with unpaid dues, even if only at closing upon sale.
Do you have experience in dealing with old and possibly unenforceable covenants? I’d love to hear about it. Contact me at 303-525-1851 or email me at Jim@GoldenRealEstate.com. I may do a follow-up article on this topic.