Many people are familiar with homeowners associations (HOA) as these kinds of communities make up a majority of neighborhoods in Arizona and have grown in exponential popularity over the past few decades. Yet even with homeowners associations as ubiquitous as ever, many homeowners still aren’t familiar with their community’s governing documents, which can lead to confusion and frustration. Getting to know the governing documents that rule your community is valuable for harmonious HOA living but can often require the assistance of a property management company to better understand and enforce these legal documents. There is a hierarchy to the numerous documents and much legal ease to sift through, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be easily explained to homeowners willing to learn more about the HOA they all home.
Hierarchy of the Governing Documents
Though there are quite a few types of governing documents for HOAs, there is a legal order of importance of how they should be recognized. Not only can this dictate which rules the community observes, but also how the courts may rule on governing issues that can arise. If one of these documents contradicts the other, the highest-ranking document is what should be followed. The hierarchy of the governing documents can be easily remembered by the acronym PCAB. This stands for plat map, CC&Rs, articles of incorporation, and bylaws.
It may seem odd that a map of the community is part of the governing documents, especially the highest on the hierarchy. However, the plat map is a vital community document for an HOA because it delineates property lines, which common areas are owned by the association, and more. The plat map is a legally recorded document and can be reviewed through the county assessor and usually available online as well, for easy access. In all matters of the HOA governing documents, the plat map is the most important, though frequently overlooked.
Covenants, Conditions & Restrictions (CC&Rs)
Unlike the plat map, most homeowners are familiar with the CC&Rs for their HOA as this is the document that provides use restrictions for owners and where many community rules are derived from. However, these governing documents can also contain so much more and is often seen as the backbone of the community. Besides providing guidelines on community appearance and homeowner responsibility, the CC&Rs often include other guidelines such as budget requirements, transfer fees when a home is sold, and can define conflict resolution for community or neighbor disputes. This is a legally recorded document through the respective community’s county, so if the board of directors or community wants to make an amendment to any part of the document, there must be a vote of the membership to approve it and it must be legally changed with the county as well.
Articles of Incorporation
When a homeowners association is first established, the articles of incorporation is the document that incorporates the community and makes it an HOA. This document is typically very brief with only a dozen pages or so and governs the corporate entity of the HOA, as homeowners associations are often non-profit organizations.
The bylaws are another document that governs the corporate entity of the HOA instead of its homeowners. However, the bylaws do set forth guidelines for the board of directors like term limits, meeting requirements, and officer positions. The bylaws typically also include information on how members will vote during annual membership meetings which are important to understand due to quorum requirements. If there isn’t enough community participation per the bylaw requirement, annual meeting voting cannot be done and this can seriously delay new board member elections or even CC&R amendments. The better-educated homeowners are about their community’s rules, the more involved they can be.
Rules & Regulations
If a community chooses, they can adopt rules and regulations, separate from the CC&Rs, that add more specifications from the governing documents. These rules and regulations should embellish the already established rules of the community but cannot contradict the governing documents. Architectural guidelines can also be added by the board to solidify a community’s aesthetic direction or uniformity. This is where the community can create guidelines such as paint color palettes for the homes or landscaping requirements, as long as it is not going against any restrictions already established in the CC&Rs. Rules and regulations as well as architectural guidelines, are not legally recorded documents and can be adapted or changed by a vote of the board of directors which allows it to be a more pliable community document that can be easily altered as the community’s needs grow and change.
Familiarizing yourself with your community’s governing documents can make you a more involved homeowner that understands how the community should function. Understanding the hierarchy of the documents and what each document does for the association can reduce confusion homeowners may have about the association’s authority. With all homeowners educated in their community’s governance, a cohesive community can easily be cultivated.