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Community Associations: What are They and What Do They Do?

This post will describe what is (and the purpose of) a community association and you might just learn a few things that will surprise you.
Staff Writer | May 17, 2017 | 3 min read
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To us, the benefits of homeowners associations are easy to see in the communities where they serve. Now you may think you know all about community associations. So, let's find out. This post will describe what is (and the purpose of) a community association and you might just learn a few things that will surprise you.

A community association is not a governing body. Rather, it is a membership group of people that serves a specific purpose with respect to a specific community or a group of homeowners in a specific geographic area. The homeowners association usually has a formal structure with elected leaders. Some associations are voluntary; some are mandatory (like homeowners' associations whose rules require membership in the association). There are often dues.

A few examples are:

  • civic association;
  • homeowner's association;
  • neighborhood community association;
  • condominium association; and
  • master associations.

The purpose of a community/homeowners association. The members of a community association share a common purpose. They exist to try to achieve that purpose.

For instance, a homeowner's association may share these goals:

  • protect and respect homeowners' rights;
  • members elect association leaders in local democratic elections and members expect them to govern with the best interest of homeowners in mind;
  • the association may provide services (snow removal, landscaping, e.g.) for the properties covered by the association;
  • successful associations build consensus among homeowners and have active members;
  • homeowners sign contracts to abide by the community rules;
  • elected leaders must also obey the community's rules as well as all applicable laws;
  • elected leaders must manage the property using best practices and protect finances they collect;
  • elected leaders must seek fairness between needs/goals of homeowners' and the individual members;
  • compromise is the watchword for elected leaders.

Not all associations have member fees. In our example, homeowner associations generally charge members fees because they provide and pay for services common to the associations' membership like snow removal, landscaping, trash pickup, office space, secretarial staff, legal services, upkeep of common areas, reserves for long-term maintenance or unexpected expenses, etc. The Board and the members decide the amount of the fee and what services the association provides.

How a Civic Association differs from other homeowner types of community associations.  Civic associations exist to improve a neighborhood through volunteer efforts of its members. You generally find civic associations in areas that do not have homeowner associations. The purpose of the civic association is to provide a mechanism through which the members can undertake discussions with local government or within the community itself. Planning social events like annual picnics or neighborhood games are often part of a civic association's duties. Civic associations often support local ordinances, such as noise pollution rules.

The civic association has no power to enforce the rules it makes so it cannot mandate dues but often accept donations or voluntary dues.

The Big Cheese: Master Associations. This type of association is fundamentally different from the others. Master Association members are other associations, not individuals. You will find Master Associations in areas where there are many neighborhoods or where public natural resources (rivers, lakes, etc) require maintenance and preservation. 

If the Master Association is part of a large planned community, the Master Association may have authority over the architectural changes for the whole community to make sure the units retain a uniform appearance. Some Master Associations are only responsible for upkeep of grounds/roads.

Master Associations charge dues from the member associations, not individuals. In fact, individuals may not even know about their association's Master Association involvement because associations do not disclose this information at the time they buy.

To learn more about responsibilities under community associations, read the article entitled "Breaking down who does what in community associations."

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