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  • Writer's pictureMarta Driscoll

5 Things to Know About Your HOA

We are pleased to share this post from a neighbor!

As a Real Estate Appraiser, I read a lot of articles about real estate. Inspired by the recent chatter on the Village of Valleybrook Facebook pages, I reviewed a series of articles focusing on Home Owner Associations or HOAs.

One thing became abundantly clear

The Purpose of an HOA is to Preserve Home Values!!

This is mainly done by maintaining the common grounds, neighborhood amenities and regulating and enforcing neighborhood covenants. Thus making sure the neighborhood has good curb appeal by preventing any outrageous activities that would damage the neighborhood reputation or desirability.

There are several things to understand about HOAs and how they serve this mission. I will try and discuss these topics one at a time and apply examples from our Village of Valleybrook HOA when I can. I have categorized them so that you can focus on what interests you most, but secretly I hope you take the time to look through ALL the categories so that we can not only have a better collective experience with our HOA but also as neighbors.

1 - How to be heard by your HOA?

In the past, there were really only two main ways to be heard. Send an email (or snail mail) to the HOA or come to the open meetings and air your grievance or opinions in front of everyone who attends. Your comments then appear in the Meeting Minutes emailed to the community later that month. Unfortunately, attending a meeting is sometimes hard with the amount of commitments families have. In today’s world of technology, we now have more options. For those that cannot make the stated open meetings, which are quite a few of us, discussing issues in the Valleybrook Facebook forums is an viable option. While the HOA may not respond there, which is appropriate, they can still see what the community's concerns or opinions are. In our neighborhood, we have three Facebook groups. One is managed by the HOA themselves. They use this to distribute information. One that is moderated by someone that is heavily involved in borough affairs and one that is moderated by someone that has lived here for several years and used to be on the HOA Board. Personally, I think this is great. Just like the news channels, every moderator can have a bias or agenda. Having multiple forums allows you to hear different versions of the same thing which is usually how you find out the real truth. Kind of like watching different news programs to try and understand our national political system.

2 - What is an Overly-Controlling HOA?

The topic of an overly controlling HOA is a topic that has an effect on the value of your home. One study was done showing that if an HOA were to not allow homeowners to have cats, then the value of the homes in the HOA would go down by up to 5%. In our development, that is approximately $10,000. The reasoning was very straight forward. Since buyers get a list of HOA regulations prior to purchasing a home (at least they should if they have a good agent), they can see the restrictions and if they can bring their pets. Since about 30% of the population has cats, those buyers can are no longer interested in purchasing here. That reduces the demand, thereby reducing the value. The question becomes what restrictions take away or do not allow us to add value to our homes. Is the current fire pit issue something that is overly restrictive or reasonable?

3 - Just like you the HOA must follow the laws.

An HOA cannot bypass Federal, State, or County laws. This is an ever-changing topic, as the laws are always changing. An example of this is the Handicap parking issue that went on a few years ago. The HOA rules stated that residents would need to pay for their own reserved handicapped parking. Several residents filed a lawsuit to fight for their rights and the rules were changed, and the residents that filed were rewarded monetarily. Be aware of your legal rights. Can you have a Direct TV or Dish network dish? There are laws regarding this. What about solar panels? Currently, our HOA does not allow solar panels. Only recently has Pennsylvania had a program to make solar panels affordable to most homeowners. New Jersey had a program for quite a while. Only time will tell what will happen on this subject. Can you buy an electric vehicle and install a charging station in your HOA? It depends on what state you’re in. Some states require an HOA to allow charging stations to be installed at the homeowners’ expense. As electric vehicles become more commonplace, and society wants to reduce the environmental impact of cars, laws will change. The question becomes, will our HOA be behind the curve or ahead of it?

4 - The law includes Building Codes

Most people don’t know that local townships, in this case, our borough doesn’t create or update the majority of their building codes. The Pennsylvania's statewide building code, generally known as the Uniform Construction Code (UCC) is based on the 2015 International Codes issued by the International Code Council (ICC),  and the provisions amended by the UCC Review & Advisory Council (RAC). Local governments use this code and can modify it based on local necessities, however, the majority of the codes are adopted as written. When an HOA makes a decision regarding building appearance, it cannot bypass building codes. Amen

5 - Don’t put non-HOA issues on the HOA

When a community asks an HOA to step in on things that are not HOA issues, we are inviting over-regulation. We have to remember that we are a community of neighbors. We simply need to talk to each other. If there are things that we cannot handle, then we have resources. If we see a crime, we call the police, NOT the HOA. If we see a person hurt, we call an ambulance, NOT the HOA. Call the HOA when it’s an HOA issue. Remember that the HOA is not a full-time job. They do not need to hear about every little issue, just the ones that are their responsibility.

Finally - Our HOA - Our Responsibility

Please remember that we, as a community, either voted someone in or abstained from voting. As far as I know, we did not have a lot of candidates trying to get a board position. Being a board member is a difficult job. If we are not satisfied with the board’s current decisions or behaviors, then you have options.

  • Residents need to speak up and tell the board through all of the various channels whether through online polls, emails or open meetings what they want.

  • If you still don’t like the way the HOA is being run, residents need to step up and be willing to run for office.

Before running for office, remember that it is sometimes a thankless job and is certainly not financially rewarding. It is sometimes difficult to separate your personal desires and business decisions in some situations. You put yourself in a position to be gossiped about. You are held accountable for what you do by people that don’t understand the difficulties of the job. You have to know that every day you are liable, both socially and legally. I have held a board position before and had to deal with politics being more important than what was right and wrong.

For those that stepped up and are doing the work that no one else wants to do, I thank you. With that said, if I disagree with the decisions or the transparency that I see with a board that represents my needs and has an impact on my home value, I will do the right thing and advocate for change, as we all should do. This is our board, this is our responsibility.

Thank you for reading. George Kuney

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