The Beginner's Guide to Dealing With Your HOA in North Carolina, Part I

 As the sea anenome protects Nemo here, your HOA protects its members from unbridled neighbor weirdness!

As the sea anenome protects Nemo here, your HOA protects its members from unbridled neighbor weirdness!

HOAs are a pain, aren’t they? What's the point of them?

So let's say that your neighbor Glen is a huge fan of the movie "Finding Nemo." Let's say that he's such a big fan that he trimmed all of the bushes in his front yard into the shape of a clownfish. Oh, and he painted the bushes to look like Nemo as well. Oh, and he painted his house to look like Dory.

Three weeks later, Glen's new project has made the local news and it seems like every so-and-so in the city is constantly cruising by your house to take a look. You're stressed because you can literally hear your property value dropping, and lately you've been hate-eating sushi for dinner and crying yourself to sleep every single night. Isn't there anything that you can do about this?

Well, this is where your homeowners association, or HOA, is going to come in. Put simply, an HOA is an entity whose central purpose is to make sure that everyone in the community is abiding by the same set of rules and expectations in order to keep the neighborhood looking good and functioning properly. When one of your neighbors decides to do something uncouth, inconvenient, weird, or even dangerous, the HOA is most often going to be the proper entity for getting him or her back in line. While it may sometimes seem like the HOA only exists to make sure nobody has any fun, the truth of the matter is that they really afford a lot of protection to the people living in the community.

So what, or who, is the HOA made up of?

At its heart, the HOA is actually made up of its “members,” which means everyone who lives in the neighborhood; you, Finding Nemo guy, the lady who spends her days spying through the blinds, everyone. Very “We Are the World,” right? But in a more direct sense, the HOA is managed through a board of directors who have been elected by the members. The Board makes important decisions, assesses fines and violations, and generally makes sure that the community is operating on an even keel.

Here in North Carolina, it’s also common for the Board to work in conjunction with a property management company. These companies exist to make it easier for HOAs to perform clerical and administrative tasks like getting in touch with HOA members, handing down Board decisions, and facilitating service contracts with vendors like pool companies, landscapers, and the like.

So can the HOA just, like, do whatever it wants?

Nope! HOAs in North Carolina are governed by a whole host of laws and other requirements. These include the following:

  1. The North Carolina Planned Community Act. The Planned Community Act, or PCA, sets forth all kinds of requirements that HOAs have to abide by, dictating what HOAs can do, what they can’t do, and how they have to conduct their business. The PCA is an extremely important piece of legislation in an area of law that many believe to be surprisingly underdeveloped.

  2. The Bylaws. The Bylaws organize the HOA Board. They indicate how many Board members will sit at a time, how the Board members are elected, what the Board’s duties are, how vacancies on the Board will be handled, and a host of other important matters.

  3. The Declarations. We’re calling these the Declarations for simplicity’s sake, as they can also be referred to as Covenants, Conditions, Restrictions, or any other similar nomenclature. The Declarations are extremely important as they set forth the rules that HOA members have to abide by within the community. They also dictate what HOA dues are, how often they have to be paid, how meetings are conducted, et cetera.

This sounds like trouble!

You aren’t alone if you feel like HOAs and their channels of operation might sound kind of ominous. In a country where people take their property rights very seriously, it ruffles a lot of feathers when you get into the idea that maybe people aren’t free to do just anything on their own land. And to a degree, heck, maybe it’s true that HOAs in North Carolina have a lot of authority, as we’ll see in the later installments of this series. Just remember this; HOAs are so prevalent these days because they protect their members more than they restrict them. Your HOA’s declarations might require you to get permission before building that nice shed in the backyard, but they can also serve to prevent your neighbor from fire-bombing neighborhood property values by turning his bushes into fish sculptures.

And that’s all the time we have for today. Be sure to check back next week!