Running a homeowners association is not the most straightforward job in the world. It requires the board of directors to simultaneously balance several interests, some of which can easily be conflicting. Of course, the intention is to make decisions that are in the best interest of all involved.

There are also tasks such as ensuring that communication flows well, taking care of maintenance, addressing violations of the association's rules, etc.

On that final note, there will be covenants, conditions, and restrictions (CC&Rs) alongside other governing documents that will come together to form the expected behaviors, voting rights, etc.

Today, we take a look at these documents to ensure that you have all the required details. Members of the association may request copies of the association's official records and you must ensure that they are adequately prepared.

The Authority Hierarchy of a Homeowners Association's Governing Documents

As indicated before, you'll typically find that community associations have a set of governing documents that provide guidance on the running of the HOA. What you may not realize is that there's an order of precedence, especially since it's not unlikely for the contents of the different pieces of documentation to clash. Here's a look at the hierarchy:

  1. Federal and state laws - Of course, these aren't documents that are prepared by any association board member. However, they sit at the top of the pecking order. Unless the law defers power to the other documents below, whatever is stated here will apply.
  2. Declaration of covenants, conditions, and restrictions (CC&Rs) - This is arguably the most important among the HOA documents. It will address the responsibilities of the HOA as well as those of the members. There will be details of property maintenance expectations, restrictions on property use, etc.
  3. Articles of incorporation - You'll find this one coming into play to outline the fundamental details of the HOA including its name, location, and purpose.
  4. Bylaws - Some of the more involved technicalities may be found here such as director election, voting, etc.
  5. Rules and regulations - The idea is to clarify how CC&Rs are meant to be implemented and interpreted.

A More Comprehensive List of Typical Official HOA Documents

What you just saw was a look at the core documents of an HOA. However, these may not necessarily be the only ones that provide either guidance or important details about the governance or happenings within the HOA. Some of the other official documents will include:

  • Insurance policies of the HOA
  • Board meeting notes and related documentation
  • Association rental records
  • Recorded instruments associated with the owned properties within the HOA
  • Association accounting records
  • Third-party agreements or contracts
  • Membership roster, complete with telephone numbers and mailing addresses of property owners
  • Any documents that the developer may have provided including plans, permits, land surveys, community maps, etc.

Focusing on the Core Documents

While all association documents are important, the core elements will speak to the governance, which is why we'll be focusing on them here and why our provided templates are centered around them. The next section will give you greater details on each of them.

The Articles of Incorporation

There will be no property selling within a planned development or condominium unless a community association such as an HOA or condominium association is formed to ensure it is run well. Property buyers immediately become association members, with some even volunteering to serve as directors.

The creation process will be cemented by the filling of articles of incorporation for a non-profit organization. Note that some states will allow associations to be unincorporated.

You'll typically find articles of incorporation to be pretty brief since they only include the basic attributes of the HOA, including its name, purpose, and location.

The Bylaws of the HOA

Formation of the HOA will then be followed by bylaw adaptation. These will outline how the association is to be run, how meetings are called, voting rights, etc.

While not mandatory, you may also find that the bylaws provide insight into the lines of responsibilities and rights of the association. Other elements can include assessment amount determinations and how the annual budget is created.

Another important piece that the bylaws will typically cover is the election procedures for directors and the term length for those elected. This one will typically be important to those who want to know when a certain term will end and when the seat will become available.

The Declaration of Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions (CC&Rs)

As indicated before, there is a high level of importance placed on the CC&Rs and this is for good reason. After all, this is where much of the essential details will be found. Should any other document conflict with what is documented here, the provision in the CC&Rs will be applied. Of course, the exception is whatever is found in state and federal law provisions since they sit at the top of the hierarchy.

Unlike the articles of incorporation, which is a relatively short document, CC&Rs tend to be on the longer side of the fence. This is because, alongside the bigger details such as the restrictions that will apply to the use of the properties within the HOA, there are many smaller details such as parts of the development that are considered common areas that are owned by the association.

Speaking of property use restrictions imposed on owners, there will also be details on the responsibilities and authority of the board. Owners are required to abide by all rules that are outlined in the CC&Rs.

It stands to reason then that owners tend to request copies of the documentation since they will want to know what is expected from them and how they can avoid violating the terms outlined. Note that state laws in most cases will require a copy to be given to potential owners who are considering making a purchase.

With concerns such as modern relevance in the mix, CC&Rs will need to be updated from time to time. The document will usually also have details on how amendments are to be made.

The HOA Rules and Regulations

As you can infer, the general rules and regulations will be contained in the CC&Rs. However, you will often find that an HOA has another set of governing policies, which are more specific and lengthy.

Once these rules are not in conflict with any state or federal laws or the CC&Rs, the HOA will typically have full authority to adopt these kinds of rules and regulations.

Anything can be covered here. For example, there can be bigger details such as how high fences are allowed to be. On the flip side, smaller elements such as trash being visible in yards may also be present.

You will typically find these to be the most controversial pieces of documentation within the HOA. They are intended to maintain the expected standard of living, but they don't require the individual owners to agree to the terms outlined.

Keep Abreast of The Right of Each Member of the Association to Review and Copy HOA Documents

HOA members may wish to inspect the documents or request copies of them and the way these requests are meant to be handled will be outlined by state law. As a director of an HOA, it's essential to know what the obligations are for granting these requests.

States such as California and Florida have a pretty detailed policy on these rights to view documents while others such as Missouri and Wisconsin don't go into such detail and use the principles of contract law.

Thankfully, once you download our templates, the preparation process shouldn't be too difficult meaning it's that much easier to honor your responsibility of providing these documents when they are requested.

Can the Board of Directors Enforce the Governing Documents and Rules Legally?

The governing documents will outline the rules and regulations and also the extent to which the HOA can enforce them. However, there are limitations to the powers that state law will defer to associations to do so.

For example, for some violations, you may find that the HOA will be able to issue a violation letter and a request to make things right, but a legal professional may be needed to take action against the owner who is in violation.

Are Governing Documents Typically Updated?

Yes, and this is especially true for organizations that have been around for some time. What you will typically find is that the passage of time will make some provisions obsolete, while it will also give rise to the need for new ones considering circumstances that may not have been present when the documents were created initially.

As indicated before, the CC&Rs will typically provide insight into the applicable procedure to have these updates carried out. Of course, it is recommended that the assistance of a legal professional is sought whenever HOA governing documents are being created or updated since this will ensure that there are no conflicts with state law and that the provisions being made are legally enforceable.

What Kinds of Responsibilities Do Board Members Have?

The HOA board of directors exists to ensure that the day-to-day operations of the HOA are taken care of as expected. Maintenance of common areas, taking care of audits, enforcing the rules and regulations of the association, and staying on top of finances are some of the more well-known responsibilities to this end.

HOAs are also expected to remain within compliance of all provisions set out with laws and regulations passed down by governing bodies and it's the board that needs to ensure that this happens. In some cases, an HOA management company may be contracted and it will take on some of these.

HOA Board Members Are Advised to Seek Legal Counsel When Creating or Updating All the Governing Documents

This was briefly alluded to before and for good reason. Sure, the templates that we have made available for download are nothing short of incredible and will put you on the path to ensure that the HOA's governing documents are well put together and as comprehensive as possible.

However, they don't give you knowledge of all the different legalities that you will need to keep in mind as you draft them. The only way for you to get that is to have a legal professional on your side who is abreast of these things and can help to ensure that they are not being overlooked by your process.

States typically have law firms that are dedicated to HOA needs, which makes it that much easier to find one.

Have You Considered Custom Software for Your Homeowners Association?

HOA management can be a cumbersome task thanks to all the variables that the documentation introduces, but the right piece of software can make things easier for you. DoorLoop has one of the best options on the market that will provide you with all the following to make management of the community and residents a breeze:

  1. Automatic payment collections of rent, amenities, dues, fines, maintenance, etc.
  2. Management of all accounting and AR/AP reports, which are also shareable.
  3. Synchronization of bank and QuickBooks accounts.
  4. Unlimited management users.
  5. Management of maintenance and architectural (ARC) requests.
  6. Free website complete with a resident portal.
  7. Communication via text, phone, email, and portal messages.

The Bottom Line

The HOA governing documents go a long way in ensuring that everyone understands how the organization is to be run. Each core document stands at a specific level of the hierarchy, which tells you its precedence and power.

Remember that our HOA software is designed to make management a breeze. Request your free demo today to see how it can work for you!


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David is the co-founder & CMO of DoorLoop, a best-selling author, legal CLE speaker, and real estate investor. When he's not hanging with his three children, he's writing articles here!