Which Rules Do I Have to Follow? The Relationship Between Master Associations and Sub-Associations

If you buy a home in a large, planned residential community, you may have just become a member of not one but two community associations. Similar to a state with counties, these communities are often organized such that there is one large community association that governs the entire community (a “master association”), and smaller community associations that govern portions of the community (“sub-associations”).  A setup like this is especially common when a community contains multiple types of dwelling units, such as single family detached homes, townhouses, and condominium units.  Each type of unit has different needs, and it might make sense for each to have its own set of governing documents and rules.  This organization creates an interesting dynamic that is important for both homeowners in these communities, as well as the professionals that serve them, to understand.

To Whom Do I Owe Assessments?

In such communities, the first question new homeowners will ask is likely “to whom due I owe assessments?”  The short answer is that homeowners must pay assessments to both the master association and the sub-association.  The long answer is that it depends on each association’s governing documents.  The governing documents for the master association and sub-association, as well as the rules and regulations adopted by each, decide to whom homeowners must pay assessments and in what amounts.  Sometimes, a master association assesses homeowners for its assessments directly.  Other times, it assesses these amounts to sub-associations, and then the sub-associations passes the master association assessment through to their respective homeowners.  The governing documents for each association likely gives them discretion to set up a system for assessments to come up with what they believe is the best process in their community.  Similarly, when a master association contains different types of units, its governing documents often give it the ability to create tiers of assessments applicable to different types of units; it may not make sense for a townhouse to pay the same assessment amount as a one bedroom condominium.  A different set up is that the master association assesses each unit in the community the same amount, and then sub-associations assess their respective units different amounts based on their needs and governing documents.  Understanding assessment obligations in these communities is also important for management and legal counsel.

Maintenance Obligations

Another significant issue with master associations regards maintenance obligations.  There are likely some common areas and amenities, like roads, within a master association that are open to the use and enjoyment of all residents within the master association.  Sometimes, though, some common areas and amenities are reserved for only certain residents within the master association, or those within a sub-association.  For example, a sub-association may have its own pool or clubhouse that only sub-association members can use.  In this case, the governing documents of both associations usually provide that the sub-association is responsible for the performance and cost of maintenance such common areas within the sub-association, but that the master association could also perform that maintenance and assess the costs of doing so back to the sub-association.  The master association and sub-association usually reach an agreement as to these maintenance responsibilities.

Covenant Enforcement

When there is a master association and a sub-association, homeowners that are members of both associations may be subject to two layers of covenant enforcement.  The master association likely has its own covenants and restrictions, as well as rules and regulations and design guidelines, that apply to the entire community, and the sub-association has the same, but which only apply to those within the sub-association.  Like maintenance obligations, sub-associations often may delegate the authority to enforce their covenants, restrictions, rules, and guidelines to the master association. Homeowners within these communities should stay up to date with board decisions for both associations, and pay attention to communications received from each association.  Professionals serving these organizations should clearly understand which association is responsible for each covenant or rule to be enforced.

Other Considerations

In addition to the issues discussed above, there are some other things all parties should know about.  For example, when a homeowner within a master association is selling his/her home, the master association and sub-association likely each need to provide their own resale disclosure packet to the prospective buyer in the sale.  In addition, for either business or ethical reasons, the master association and sub-association are not always served by the same management company, lawyers, or other professionals.  Associations, homeowners, and professionals should understand all of these nuances.


When a community is organized into a master association and sub-associations, there are generally two layers of everything:  two layers of assessments, two layers of maintenance responsibilities, two layers of enforcement, etc.  This type of organization has certain advantages because condominium units should not treated the same as single family detached homes, but it also may be complicated to understand.  All parties should carefully review the governing documents and adopted rules and regulations of each association in order to avoid confusion, and to promote efficiency.

By Steven F. Dunn, ESQ.

Steven Dunn is an associate attorney in the Condo/HOA Practice Group at Linowes and Blocher LLP.  He is licensed to practice law in Virginia and Maryland, and his practice includes representation of homeowners and condominium associations with all matters, including interpretation of their governing documents.  He also assists developers with the organization of large-scale residential communities that may be comprised of more than one community association.

9 comments on “Which Rules Do I Have to Follow? The Relationship Between Master Associations and Sub-Associations

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  1. Harriet McCombs on

    Our sub association is insisting it has its own rules and does not have to abide by any master association rules. Is this true?

  2. Harriet McCombs on

    Our sub association refuses to accentuated association rules and regs. They say they have their own. Which rules do they use?

  3. Federico Henao on

    Good Morning Mr. Dunn,

    I am member of a sub-association and as you mentioned on this great article, streets are owned by master association either it is a gated or not gated community. Lately all communities are having parking issues and over years homeowners have been parking on streets specially overnight. Master association rules specifies clearly no parking on street since day one but master association did not enforce it properly and as a consequence we are dealing with this issue for long time ago.
    Now, after many complains posted to city police and fire fighters departments, master association sent out letters to all homeowners to remind about parking rules but also, master board wants to pass enforcement to sub-association and now each association must plan and invest with enforcement solutions like towing, registering homeowners vehicles, providing vehicle permit stickers and more.
    I had expressed to master association our discomfort passing their responsibility to sub-association and I would like to know if we as sub-association have the right to fight back to master association and not permitting passing parking enforcement to sub-associations. Thank you.

  4. laurie mazza on

    My master board insists that our sub associations must enforce the rules of their sub association meaning, planting shrubs and flowers in the subdivision, not conforming with the common elements. I keep telling them that if the sub associations do not follow the rules of the Master Association that they must intervene. Is this true?

    Also could the Presidents of each subdivision be held responsible for not following the Master Associations rules. For example the master association rules are no dogs larger then 25 lbs, no pick up trucks, no renting the unit without board approval. Thank you

  5. nate on


    I have one question about my association. There are 6 buildings next to each other and each one has its own Association board members. Now, apparently there is also master association. And I’m the president of one building (of these 6) association. Can we get out of that Master Association and be on our own? Owner of that master association called and said that we can’t get out of the master association because he owns the land (apparently he purchased the land long time ago and built apartments and then converted them to condos and sold them, but he created master association and no building can get out and have their own association. By law, can we leave the master association and hire another management company (owners of that building)?


  6. David Brrg on

    Our Master association carries an insurance policy covering liability. Are the sub associations entitled to a copy of that policy.

  7. Ton Coleman on

    Our master association has recently begun to delegate responsibilities to our sub-association of which I serve as president. Recently, the master board has refused to maintain the irrigation that comes from the manmade lakes in our community. The master association has maintained this system for thirty years and they now want to turn the portion of the common area that they deem as part of the sub’s common area. It is a complex system that contains pumps and control valves and master control panel and irrigates all the common areas. The sub-association feels that this may be a slippery slope to other responsibilities such as partial maintenance of pumps and even paving of roads, etc. all members of the community pay the same set yearly assessment to the master board and another assessment to the sub-association for things like mowing, landscaping, termite and pest control, fertilizing, etc. does the master have the right to suddenly decide to turn over maintenance of an interconnected irrigation system that was previously maintained by the master association (for thirty years)?

  8. Gary Jackson on

    We have a Master Association that has a cooperative and single family homes with both having to buy certificate of membership to each of those 2 sub associations. Additional there are also both areas that have non certificate holders making up about 50% of the properties. The Master Association was formed in 2002 and before that the developer and CCRs had a functioning HOA. After the 2002 date the HOA was inactivated by the MA and the non certificate owners have no rights but pay large monthly fees. The subdivision homes own the land. MA follows only the 617 and condo statutes. The subdivision has no HOA and no fl statute to follow.