How to Opt Out of an HOA

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Homeowners associations (HOAs) are organizations that hold a given group of houses to a certain standard. For instance, in a housing development, an HOA may dictate that everyone must trim their lawns weekly. They may also collect HOA fees to maintain shared roads and community spaces. There are ways to get out of an HOA, but none of them are easy.

About 40 million housing units are part of HOA communities, and not all members are happy with the arrangement. These agreements are in place to maintain property values, but some occupants find them restrictive and look for ways to get out of them. Below are five tips to help you exit an HOA community.

How to Get Out of an HOA

The answer to whether you can leave your HOA will likely be in the covenants, conditions and restrictions (CC&Rs) document you sign when purchasing a home with an HOA. The CC&Rs include the rules that apply to homes within the association, potentially dictating things such as building placement on lots or acceptable exterior paint colors. This agreement usually gives the association the ability to fine homeowners that break regulations and stipulates if and how a member can leave the association.

Membership is often required if you live in a community with an HOA, which makes leaving the association tough—if not impossible. Even with a mandatory HOA, though, there are some options available to you if you'd like to attempt to leave:

  1. Sell your house. When an HOA becomes an unpleasant presence in your life, the simplest thing to do may be to sell your house and leave. Any money owed to the HOA will typically have to be taken care of before the sale can close.
  2. Invoke a de-annexation clause. A de-annexation clause may be in your CC&Rs and sets out the requirements for a home to be de-annexed from a homeowners association. You can petition the HOA to have the home removed, possibly staging a legal request through the court system.
  3. Wait for the HOA or membership to end. HOAs can be dissolved, so if you hear rumblings that the HOA will soon stop, wait it out. Some HOAs have membership renewals as well, which may allow you to leave at the next renewal date.
  4. Grandfather out. If when you purchased your home there was no HOA, you may not need to join a newly forming one. Check your paperwork to see if you agreed to join any future HOAs. If not, you may be able to fight any pressure to join a new one.
  5. Organize to dissolve the HOA. The bylaws may specify what percentage of agreement—often 80%—amongst members is required to dissolve the HOA. You are free to campaign among your neighbors to reach this.

Not every neighborhood requires membership in an HOA; some are voluntary. If you buy a home in a neighborhood with a voluntary HOA, you have the choice to opt out, but that means missing out on some of the benefits your neighbors enjoy through HOA membership such as beach access or snow removal. Properties in deed-restricted communities may also still be affected by HOA rules, such as where you can place a shed or what kind of fence you can install.

How to Reduce Your HOA Fees

If it's not the HOA's rules but rather the fees that you'd like to do away with, consider attempting to reduce your HOA fees.

You may be able to opt out of specific services. This could be a good compromise if paying the monthly fee is a struggle. Opt out of lawn service or snow removal for a time in exchange for a lower price and handle those chores yourself.

If things with your HOA seem financially out of order, consider getting involved to try to reduce the fees. Board members have decision-making power, so think about whether it might be worth running for the board. As an HOA board member, you may be able to negotiate with contractors and lower the costs of some community services.

Your HOA fees should go toward maintaining a pleasant community with conveniences that work for you. If paying into the HOA is no longer providing you with benefits or has become unaffordable, see what can be done to opt out.

But don't just stop paying. Unpaid dues may eventually get reported to credit bureaus as collection accounts, which ding your credit score. In some states, including Texas, HOAs can even foreclose on your house if fees are unpaid. Work with the association to find an affordable option and keep your eye on your credit during the process.