Who benefits from homeowners’ associations (HOAs)? Is it just the obvious – the members of the HOA? Or do the benefits of HOAs extend beyond that? There are three distinctly different groups who enjoy the benefits associated with the existence of HOAs – the industry that exists to support them, the local jurisdictions within which they are established, and the members of the HOAs
The very existence of HOAs creates the need for the establishment of an infrastructure of supporting companies whose sole purpose is to provide goods and services to HOAs and their members. HOAs have the need of law firms, management companies, landscaping businesses, insurance firms, auditors, and any number of other service organizations, big and small, who exist primarily to support HOAs.
Next, there are the benefits that our local jurisdictions derive from having HOAs within their boundaries. Many HOAs provide for road maintenance, snow removal, and trash collection. In some jurisdictions, the HOA owns, and is responsible for, maintaining the storm water system that services their community. In the absence of an HOA, these requirements would normally be the responsibility of a local or state government agency. Maintenance of infrastructure is paid for through personal property taxes or some other form of local tax or fee. Yet, for members of an HOA who pay for these items through their annual assessments, there is no corresponding decrease in their personal property taxes. Thus, this huge benefit to local government. I’m not saying that there needs to be some form of compensation to HOA members, just that this benefit to the local government needs to be understood the next time a private citizen or politician outside an HOA structure criticizes an HOA.
Obviously, living in an HOA brings several benefits to its members. There is often a “small-town” feel to living in a community governed by volunteer leaders and a set of documents aimed at ensuring a high quality of life for its residents. This small-town feel fosters an environment where residents have a sense of belonging to something bigger. It’s like belonging to a club and what
you pay for membership produces benefits available to all members – amenities such as a clubhouse, pools, trails and open spaces; homes that are maintained to a common standard, thus ensuring the highest rate of return on our investment; a system of arbitration to ensure fair and equitable treatment; and a sense of greater security through police patrols, community neighborhood watch programs, and the vigilance that comes with a sense of belonging to and being proud of their community.
Well-written governing documents and a board and committee structure composed of volunteer peers also benefit the HOA members in that disputes can be resolved quickly and at the lowest level possible. Many times, disputes are resolved without the need for legal aid or time consuming and costly court proceedings. Well-run and managed HOAs create a synergy of community involvement and caring that cannot be matched by the local jurisdiction’s bureaucracy. Well-run and represented HOAs create a dynamic presence in the local jurisdiction that is not overlooked by local politicians. Each of us is a constituent of our elected politicians but together, our HOAs represent a larger, louder voice in the greater community.
Many of us have heard of the negative side of living in an HOA. Too often, the benefits of living in an HOA never see the light of day. Few of us write our local politicians to tell them how great it is to be living in our community. Why should we; we expect it to be great. Yet, every so often, a constituent will write to complain about how unfairly they are being treated and the next thing you know legislation is drafted to further emasculate the responsibilities and authority of all HOAs. Let me suggest something: If you like your HOA and the way it is governed, write your local political representative and tell them so. You might also ask them what they are doing with that part of your personal property tax they collect but don’t have to spend on you! If you don’t like your HOA
and the way it is run, volunteer to be on a board or committee and be a part of the solution, not the problem.
By Tom Burrell
Tom is retired after 22 years in the U.S. Army and 23 years in private industry. He currently serves as Vice President of the Westridge Swim & Racquet Club Board of Trustees, and President of the Barrister’s Keepe HOA. He also serves as Chairman of the Planning, Environment, Land-Use, and Transportation Committee of a 45+year-old civic association. Finally, to ensure he is busy all the time, Tom serves on the City of Fairfax Planning Commission.