Within months of moving into her Waxhaw home, Suzanne Ardite says she received a letter warning her of potential fines if she failed to quickly correct brown spots on her lawn, making her realize how strict her homeowners association board would be. The Angie’s List member, who lives in the Providence Downs subdivision, hired highly rated Carolina Turf Masters of Charlotte to rehab her lawn and maintain the landscaping as dictated by her neighborhood covenants — a nearly 100-page document she received after closing on the home.
“They’re going for a uniform, upscale look, which is great,” she says of the specific rules regarding everything from the types of trees they allow homeowners to plant to permitted placement for play sets.
Like many homeowners, Ardite relies on her landscaping company and local contractors familiar with HOA guidelines to help her avoid violations and potential fines, which can lead to liens, court costs and even foreclosure under North Carolina law if homeowners fail to pay them. While stories of extreme or demanding HOA boards grab headlines, Angie’s List members and local contractors who deal with architectural review committees on a regular basis say knowing the details of your covenants and restrictions, and following the guidelines to the letter helps head off hassles. Those legal documents spell out requirements and allowable materials for fencing, siding, building additions, landscaping and general maintenance within the neighborhood.
Related story: North Carolina legislators look at HOA laws
“I’ve been in communities with almost non-existent HOAs and then, also, the other end of the spectrum, which is this,” says Ardite, whose family has relocated eight times to various communities across the U.S., none with as restrictive covenants as her current home. She admits the meticulous guidelines occasionally frustrate her, but also contribute to her attraction to the well-kept neighborhood and give her confidence in her ability to resell if she relocates again. “Just make sure you know the covenants, restrictions and the appeal process, and what happens if you have an issue,” Ardite recommends.
Charlotte-area contractors advise the biggest hurdle to project approval hinges on providing the right documentation to the board and allowing enough time for approval, since boards typically review plans once a month. Mike Spath, owner of highly rated Carolina Wood Fence in Troutman, N.C., says when a homeowner contacts him, he first asks what kind of fence interests them, then if they have a homeowners association.
“Fences are pretty much always included [in covenants],” he says. “Generally speaking, the rules are all close to the same, but each association does have some specifics.” He says most associations ban chain-link fences, while some don’t allow split-rail, aluminum or vinyl types. Others only allow those specific styles. Style, along with setbacks
and height requirements, vary by the character of the neighborhood.
Spath’s company reviews the covenants with the homeowner and handles the application process and paperwork. Some associations require that homeowners handle requests, but many service providers prepare the paperwork, says Kurt Beamesderfer, owner of highly rated A Deck Above in Indian Trail, N.C.
“Ninety-nine percent of the time, it’s an easy process,” says Beamesderfer, whose company primarily builds decks and porches, which nearly always require HOA approval and permits. “It’s a little bit of extra work, but basically what we’re doing for the HOA, we have to do for a permit anyway. But is it easier to do in a non-HOA community? Heck, yeah.”
Before contacting a contractor, he recommends homeowners pull their home’s survey, or the plat map showing structures and setbacks.If the map isn’t in their closing papers, they can get it through their county real estate records or mapping department, he says.
Some homeowners try to avoid seeking approval, because of the time needed or because they don’t realize the HOA could legally require them to remove or replace unapproved structures. “What really ticks them off is when you start a project without getting approval,” Beamesderfer says. He and Spath require those owners to sign a waiver that relieves the company from liability if the HOA fines the owner.
Though, unlike North Carolina, South Carolina state law doesn’t address non-condo associations, individuals in HOA communities still must abide by their association covenants. Member Jane Szabaga, who lives in the Knightsbridge subdivision in Fort Mill, S.C., expected HOA pushback on the 250-square-foot home addition she sought approval for this spring. “I was nervous, because the man in charge of our HOA construction committee is very detail-oriented,” she says. After hiring highly rated Design Plus 3 of Charlotte to draw up detailed plans, however, the process went so smoothly, she began considering further projects. “The main concern the HOA had was that the addition not stand out,” she says, adding that her plans specified materials to match her home.
Even with small projects, professionals prove helpful in staying on the right side of your covenants. Crystal DeMund has hired highly rated Choice Builders of Charlotte for several projects since moving to the Ashton Grove subdivision in 2004. She first hired Choice after a dent in the garage door prompted a letter from the HOA demanding repair and later to fix a hail-damaged roof, which required approval. “Having someone direct and advise us, it went really, really smooth,” she says.