Chances are, if you build a new home or purchase a house that was built within the last decade or so, you will live in a community that is run by a homeowners’ association.

A homeowners’ association fulfills several functions within the community, including maintaining a certain aesthetic pertaining to neighborhood architectural and landscaping standards, as well as providing maintenance and upkeep of any community facilities and public spaces. Although there are many perks to living in an HOA, they often get a lot of bad press. Some may wonder if homeowners have an option when it comes to joining a homeowners’ association, so let’s take a look at the options:

When Membership is Required

Some HOAs have voluntary participation, while others are mandatory. Obviously, those who live in a community where membership is voluntary do not have to join, but may not receive the benefits that come from the HOA. Those who live in a mandatory membership community do have to join the association, pay assessments, and comply with neighborhood standards. Generally speaking, there is no way around it. Membership must be taken seriously, rules must be followed, and dues must be paid.

If you buy a home in a neighborhood that already has an established HOA, you must join as a condition of purchasing the new home. Assessments will be payable starting when your sale closes; you do not have the option to opt out of joining the HOA. Bottom line: if you do not want to be a member of the association, you should purchase a home in a different area.

When Membership May Not Be Required

If an HOA is created in a neighborhood where no association previously existed, current homeowners are generally not required to become members of the association. Similarly, sometimes a community with voluntary HOA membership will decide to become a mandatory HOA community. Most often, this decision is made due to dwindling funds and/or participation, which are needed to continue with the upkeep of public amenities.

In these situations, homeowners are not obligated to join, but many can be convinced to join once the benefits of membership are adequately explained. An association can be created to include as many households as desire to participate, then the CC&Rs can dictate a provision stating that once those households which do not join are sold, the new owners will be required to join the association and begin paying assessments.

Dissolving an HOA

If you live in an HOA community, you do not have the option to opt-out. However, if you are interested in getting rid of the HOA, there is often a way to do so; be advised the process is difficult, lengthy, and very costly.

If this is truly an option you wish to pursue, you should talk to your neighbors to see if there are more people who feel the way you do. Generally, it takes an affirmative vote from 80% of homeowners to abolish an association. Read your CC&Rs and understand your state’s laws, which will outline the rules and specify the procedure for how to dissolve the association. If this is still a plan of action you wish to pursue, you will need to hire an attorney with experience in this matter. Because the dissolution of an association is a legal process with explicit details that need to be followed and paid attention to, the collective group of homeowners will need adequate legal representation.

The Alternative

Instead of taking drastic measures and pursuing the dissolution of an association, we recommend first considering what can be done to make the HOA better for those in the community. Are people unhappy because of leadership? Management? Excessive bylaws? Assessments that are too expensive? These are all problems that are easily solved.

If you’re unhappy with the way your HOA handles things in your community, one of the best things you can do is get involved! Talk to your neighbors, attend board meetings, or even volunteer as a board member yourself. Take action to help your community be a place where you and your neighbors enjoy living.