If you are like most new home or condo buyers, you were given a large stack of association documents that you filed away and forgot about. But it is in your best interest to review all of the association documents and familiarize yourself with the contents as you must follow the rules as a member of the association.

Most people, as first-time members of an association, don’t have a clue about what the rules and restrictions are or even how a community association functions. Think about your association as a small town with officials elected to maintain the community’s public works. To do so, they must assess fees to the residents to carry out this work.

Membership – This a requirement when you purchase your home – you cannot buy a home or condo in an HOA community without being an association member. Membership has its privileges and responsibilities. Fees associated with your membership helps cover dues/maintenance fees, entitles you to elect board members, gives you the right to attend board and membership meetings, and to approve amending your association documents (Covenants, Conditions, & Restrictions, Declaration and Bylaws or CC&R/Declaration).

Some members, including yourself, might want to serve on the board or volunteer on committees. You must also comply with your association’s documents.

Association Documents – The documents provide detail about the association’s house and community rules. You don’t want to learn about the house rules by receiving a notice of violation of a rule.

While some documents and procedures can change among different HOAs, here are some general guidelines that apply to most.

The CC&R/Declaration defines what your unit boundaries are, which is your responsibility in terms of maintenance and repairs. It also tells you what your limited common and common elements are.

The association’s documents will state what are common elements, meaning the association’s responsibility to maintain, and limited common elements, which could be the association or the owner’s responsibility, depending on what the association’s papers state. Owners who don’t know the difference could be held liable if they do work on an area that is under the association’s control. They may even have to restore the work to its original condition.

Along with addressing association management, operations, and meetings and election procedures, the bylaws also establish the number of board members and their terms of office, along with the duties assigned to the board. Certainly, issues should be brought to the board’s attention, but bylaw changes may have to be addressed at an annual meeting when the membership as a whole can make the decision. The board has the authority to change house and community rules without a vote of the membership.

Insurance – Know what your policy covers. The association master policy may cover some expenses, but don’t wait to find out until a catastrophic event occurs. Many master policies will cover restoration to an “as built” condition, which probably won’t cover any restorations you have made, personal property, or liability claims within your unit.

It’s also important to be aware of the association’s insurance deductible amount and policy. If the water heater breaks in your unit, causing a flood in your unit and other units near or under you, the association’s policy will cover the repairs to all the units affected to “as built” condition.

Your insurance agent should talk with the association’s agent to know what coverage you may need, that is not covered by the association’s policy. You could be charged for the association’s deductible, which could cost as much as $25,000, and the other affected homeowners could sue you for their losses not covered by the association’s insurance. If you plan to rent your unit, you may need additional coverage.

Assessments – All owners in a community share common areas and services. As such, they share in paying for these things in order to benefit from these areas and services. Planned Community Associations (PCA) owners generally all pay the same amount in community dues and have the same voting power per unit. Maintenance fees in a Condominium Association are based on their Percent of Common Interest (PCI), which is identified in the association’s Declaration and their voting power is also based on this PCI.

Contact your manager if you don’t have your association documents.