Buying a Home in an HOA? Why Reviewing CC&Rs Matters

May 20, 2024 - 8 min read

Thinking about purchasing a condominium, townhome, or other residence within a homeowners association (HOA)? Be sure to read and understand the covenants, conditions, and restrictions (CC&Rs) prior to closing. These rules will spell out what homeowners are allowed and not permitted to do on the property.

Read on to learn more about CC&Rs and how they work, how to access them, and the consequences for violating any CC&Rs.

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What are CC&Rs in real estate?

Covenants, conditions, and restrictions (CC&Rs) are the guidelines and rules that define, within a legal document, how residents within a homeowners association (HOA) can use and improve their private properties.

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An HOA, by the way, is a community-governed organization that supervises shared spaces and amenities. It is typically run by a board of directors elected by homeowners within the association. These board members manage the community’s CC&Rs, finances, and maintenance of common areas that all residents enjoy.

“CC&Rs refer to any property use restrictions – basically what you can and cannot do to your property as an owner,” explains Derrell Shaffer, senior director of Underwriting for Tomo in Stamford, Connecticut.

Developers commonly draft the set of rules for CC&Rs when first establishing a community, but homeowners also have some say in the matter.

“It’s the HOA board’s job to administer and enforce the CC&Rs once the neighborhood is up and running,” says Jim Olenbush, an Austin, Texas-based real estate agent.

Ryan Nelson, founder and CEO of Rental Real Estate, notes that CC&Rs serve important purposes.

“They are designed to preserve property values and neighborhood charm and ensure a pleasant community environment,” he says.

It’s easy to get covenants, conditions, and restrictions confused with “bylaws.” The latter refers to rules dictating the functioning of the HOA, such as when the HOA will meet, how the meetings will be conducted, and responsibilities assigned to different association board positions. Bylaws cover essential guidelines for managing the HOA effectively. It’s smart for home buyers purchasing into an HOA community to also be aware of its bylaws so you can better understand how the neighborhood operates.

Examples of common CC&Rs enforced by HOAs

Some common instances of CC&Rs include exterior design rules such as acceptable paint colors or fence styles, landscaping standards like mowing schedules and types of foliage you can have, as well as allowable renovations, noise restrictions, rental limitations, parking rules, and permitted pets.

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“The rules can be super specific, like the particular kind of white paint you are permitted to use on the trim of your house,” says Shaffer. “Some hot-button issues that different HOAs have various rules around are things like whether you can install solar panels or possess firearms. Sometimes they even regulate whether your kids can have a lemonade stand in the front yard.”

Additionally, there can be CC&R stipulations around the display of political, religious, or sports items in front of your home, including specific kinds of Christmas decorations or the displaying of a football team banner or pride flag, Shaffer continues.

Why carefully reviewing CC&Rs is essential

“It is absolutely vital for potential buyers to read the CC&Rs before purchasing, as violating these rules can result in serious consequences,” adds Nelson. “Understanding the CC&Rs upfront can help you determine if the property is compatible with your lifestyle expectations for that community. It avoids conflicts and helps maintain good relations between neighbors.”

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Olenbush echoes those thoughts.

“You need to read the CC&Rs thoroughly before settling on a property within an HOA. This way, you know exactly what you’re signing up for beforehand and can avoid any unpleasant surprises down the road that could, for example, disrupt your renovation dreams. It also protects you from accidental violations that may result in penalties,” he cautions.

Consider that the rules clarified in the CC&Rs may provide a better idea of what you’ll need to budget for, which can help you make a more informed decision before committing to the purchase.

“For example, you could discover that a particular degree of lawn maintenance is required, which, you then learn, will cost you an additional $150 per month above and beyond what is included in the standard HOA fee,” Shaffer says. “Or the CC&R may indicate, for instance, that you are only allocated one parking spot, which means you’ll need to think about where you can park your second vehicle and what that will cost.”

Eric Bramlett, owner of the real estate brokerage Bramlett Residential, can personally vouch for how important it is to read and consider CC&Rs before purchasing.

“I still remember the headaches my wife and I went through with our first house back in the late 1990s. We were so excited to be new homeowners, but that first year was a rude awakening with the HOA,” he says. “We had no clue about the ins and outs of all their rules and what we could or couldn’t do with the yard, the siding – you name it. It definitely would have saved us some hassle if we had taken the time to carefully read through the CC&R paperwork and be aware of any restrictive covenants from the get-go.”

How do I find CC&Rs for a property before buying?

Fortunately, it shouldn’t be difficult to get a copy of the CC&Rs you’ll need to review before completing the purchase of a home within an HOA.

“According to most state laws, it’s typically a requirement for potential buyers to receive a copy of CC&Rs before going through with the home buying process,” Seamus Nally, CEO of TurboTenant in Fort Collins, Colorado, explains.

You can also request a copy of the applicable CC&Rs from the HOA or seller during a home showing or open house.

“Most homeowners associations also post these governing documents on their website for easy reference to accommodate residents and prospective purchasers alike,” says Bramlett.

What happens if I violate a CC&R rule?

Make no mistake: HOAs can be very picky about abiding by the CC&Rs.

“If you break a covenant, condition, or restriction without approval, the HOA may first provide a courtesy notice or warning letter but then fine you or restrict access to shared amenities like the community swimming pool if you continue to violate the rules,” warns Bramlett.

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Alternatively, the HOA could force your compliance with a violated CC&R rule by entering your property, resolving the issue, and billing you for it. Case in point: If you aren’t keeping up with lawn care, they could hire a landscaping company to mow your lawn and leave you with the tab.

“If you are fined but don’t pay it, the HOA can even put a lien on your property that prevents you from moving without first paying the lien. In extreme cases, these liens can result in attempts to foreclose or forcibly evict someone,” Shaffer says.

The HOA may also take legal action, “such as filing an enforcement lawsuit against you,” Bramlett adds.

Nally points out that “the reason so many people dislike HOAs is often because CC&Rs can be extremely strict and penalize you if you break these rules, even if it’s something as particular as the exact placement of your garbage cans.”

The bottom line

The covenants, conditions, and restrictions imposed by a homeowners association may appear to be fussy, harsh, and cumbersome. Ideally, however, they are put in place with good intentions: to preserve the look, character, and property values of the community. Nevertheless, you may determine that some CC&R restrictions are deal-breakers that are excessive, unnecessary, and difficult to comply with. That’s why it’s crucial to access and thoroughly parse this legal document before making an offer on a home.

“Understanding the agreed-upon rules upfront empowers homeowners to love where they live on their terms, avoiding surprises and protecting their investments,” says Bramlett.


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What are CC&Rs in a homeowners association?

CC&Rs, short for Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions, are rules and regulations established by a homeowners association that govern the use, maintenance, and appearance of properties within the community.

Can CC&Rs be changed?

Yes, CC&Rs can be amended, but it typically requires a certain percentage of homeowners within the association to vote in favor of the changes.

What happens if I violate CC&Rs?

Violating CC&Rs can lead to penalties, fines, or legal actions by the homeowners association. It’s important to review and comply with the CC&Rs to avoid any issues.

How do CC&Rs affect property values?

Well-maintained and enforced CC&Rs can help protect property values by ensuring a consistent appearance and standard of living within the community.

Are CC&Rs legally binding?

Yes, CC&Rs are legally binding documents that homeowners are required to follow as part of their agreement to live within the community.

How are CC&Rs enforced?

CC&Rs are enforced by the homeowners association, which may use various methods such as fines, warnings, or legal action to ensure compliance.

Do CC&Rs cover exterior property maintenance?

Yes, CC&Rs often include regulations regarding exterior property maintenance, such as landscaping requirements, building alterations, and property upkeep.

Can I review the CC&Rs before purchasing a property?

It is recommended to review the CC&Rs before purchasing a property in a homeowner association to understand the rules, restrictions, and obligations that come with living in the community.

Erik J. Martin
Authored By: Erik J. Martin
The Mortgage Reports contributor
Erik J. Martin has written on real estate, business, tech and other topics for Reader's Digest, AARP The Magazine, and The Chicago Tribune.
Aleksandra Kadzielawski
Reviewed By: Aleksandra Kadzielawski
The Mortgage Reports Editor
Aleksandra is the Senior Editor at The Mortgage Reports, where she brings 10 years of experience in mortgage and real estate to help consumers discover the right path to homeownership. Aleksandra received a bachelor’s degree from DePaul University. She is also a licensed real estate agent and a member of the National Association of Realtors (NAR).