Can my homeowner association add or eliminate amenities at will?
Yes and no. While the board of directors has the authority to add or detract from its collection of amenities, it is a process; and, at times, it can be a lengthy process. Always refer to state statutes, the HOA’s governing documents, and input from members. If all permit the Board to do so, then it could be as easy as passing a motion to act on this change at the next board meeting. This tends to be an easy process if an amenity is being added. If the intent is to eliminate an amenity, that could be trickier.
There are significant considerations when making this decision; either way, you will need your board to be in agreeance, they should consider how this decision may affect the members and the general morale of the community, and the budget should be reviewed to ensure the association’s finances will need to allow for the work to be paid for. However, the language in an associations governing documents may be the largest thing to consider. Sometimes, the board and every homeowner within the association may agree to eliminate an amenity, but the governing documents do not allow for that particular change to be made to the community.
It is common for these documents to state that the board has an obligation to maintain, repair, and replace an amenity, with varying degrees of specificity or ambiguity. If, for example, your community’s playground is old and unsafe, and the association decides its time to get rid of it, this could be problematic if the bylaws fail to mention amenity elimination. In this case, the board of directors may not have the authorization to have the playground taken down and the association’s governing documents may need to be amended. When this situation arises, it is best to take every precaution, and consult with your Homeowner Association’s attorney before doing anything, to be clear about the legality of whatever action is to be taken by the board of directors and possible repercussions. For more resources and information on adding and eliminating amenities, take a look at our blog.
What if my homeowner association can't afford to keep an amenity?
Often, amenities are damaged, too old and worn, or are otherwise not fit for use. Whether an amenity is unsafe or not up to date, updating or removing the amenity can be a costly endeavor. Of course, there’s only so much money to go around in any given association, and in the case of the expense of an amenity exceeding the board’s allotted budget, the board has just a couple different options to prevent the use of this amenity and any subsequent consequences of its use, such as causing further damage to- or worse, someone getting hurt.
As mentioned, the amenity can be removed, however it is worth noting that not only could this be expensive, but the associations documents may prevent the board from doing performing any removal anyway, in which case an attorney may need to be contacted.
The second option is to temporarily suspend access to the amenity until such a time when it can be repaired or replaced. Generally speaking, this option may not only bear less legal complications, but it also easier. Also, whether the amenity is repaired or taken down, it will take time and money, so temporary suspension is cheaper in the short-term, and more conducive to the best interests of the community. No one wants to take away any piece of the community from residents, and by waiting until the association’s finances are in order to make repairs and replacements, the amenity can be preserved for future use.
Remember, every association has a set of original covenants, often referred to as the Master Deed, and it is different for every community in one way or another to use as a guide when it comes to these dilemmas, especially before the decision is made to eliminate or remove community features. In addition, it’s always best to consult your association’s attorney before permanently eliminating an amenity, to determine the board’s level of authorization. For more information on eliminating amenities, take a look at our blog.
What is included in an HOA's common area?
The common areas of a Homeowner Association, or common elements, include and spots, spaces, and amenities that are available for anyone to use. All members of the association have access to these elements and areas, as it is included in the fees all homeowners pay each billing cycle. This could include the pool, parking lot, playgrounds, or walking trails, and much more. There are other common elements that are “limited” and reserved for common use for those that pay a special fee, but for that subject, please see the question below or our resource articles regarding limited common elements.
While amenities are not always a common area, a common area generally falls under the category of an amenity. As such, depending on what is declared in the association’s covenants, it may fall under the same regulations that an amenity does. Common areas can be an expensive part of a homeowners association, when considering the regular maintenance and occasional repairs that may be needed. Pools, for example, can be infamously costly. Just like a pool, common areas often require constant supervision as well.
The more common areas there are, the more there is to manage. Such is the case with pools, recreational courts and courses, and even clubhouses for some associations. As with most amenities, the board must consider the governing documents and how they refer to common areas or amenities, and specifically how detailed the language is in those regulations. They must also consider all repercussions of their actions (or inaction) when it comes to making big decisions about common areas, regarding how those decisions will affect their budget and the community at large. For more information regarding common elements, take a look at the resource articles on our blog.
What are Limited Common Elements?
Limited Common Elements (LCEs) areas or amenities that belong to the Homeowners Associations and all its members, but that one individual or group rents or leases exclusively for their own purposes. This could not only include a storage unit or specific parking spaces that are used only by the individual who have reserved these areas for their personal use but could also take a wider definition to apply to pipes, electrical wiring, and units, as well as air conditioning units.
Features that are classified as these common elements may also differ depending on what type of community you live. Those who live in condominiums and townhomes will inherently interact with common elements more often and have more regular access to them than homeowners. Some general common elements that are strictly just for show, like fountains and gardens. When it comes to limited common elements, they should be treated as property of the association (because they are). As such, no matter what fees are paid or how exclusive the use of this amenity is to you, this element should not be damaged or defaced in any way.
As a homeowner who may hold access to a limited common element, you will need to be aware of what fees you would be paying, if any, and will almost certainly need permission to make any changes to this amenity: permission that is not guaranteed. As a board member, however, you will need to be clear on any language in the community’s governing documents that mentions limited common areas and exactly what is said about it. As the case often is, the covenants may be incredibly broad and somewhat vague about how to handle situations that include LCE disputes. Generally, governing documents will state that the board has an obligation to maintain, repair, and replace an amenity, including Limited Common Elements, and should act in accordance with that language.
The tricky part of limited common elements is discerning what responsibilities fall unto the homeowners association and what responsibilities are required of the primary user. As mentioned, refer to your association’s covenants, conditions, and restrictions in addition to any amendment documents, and do not be afraid to contact your association’s attorney before your board amends any of those documents and before engaging in any actions that may be breech your HOAs covenants. For more information on limited common elements, take a look at our blog.