Civic and neighborhood associations very different from “modern” HOAs

By Deborah Goonan, Independent American Communities

Many types of organizations are referred to as homeowners associations (HOAs). The media tend to lump all HOAs together as the same thing, often failing to make important distinctions between voluntary civic associations and mandatory homeowners associations.

And that explains, in part, why there is so much public confusion over what HOAs are, and what purpose they serve.

Today I am going to share three examples of voluntary homeowners or community associations, so the reader can see how very different a civic or neighborhood group is compared to today’s “modern” HOA.

Most modern HOAs require mandatory participation by deed. They are almost always created by and for the benefit of real estate developers, despite being labeled as “homeowners” associations. Very few mandatory HOAs are created by residents or homeowners after a subdivision is developed, unless the local government pressures owners to do so in order to maintain a common road, storm water pond or amenity for which it would rather not be responsible.

But before the 1970s and 1980s, most HOAs were very different. Also known as Neighborhood Associations or Civic Associations, older HOAs were almost always voluntary associations with relatively low dues. These associations had limited responsibilities and power over their neighbors. Homeowners were not obligated to pay assessments nor required to join the HOA.

Older neighborhoods with voluntary associations were rarely burdened with responsibility for maintaining infrastructure beyond that of their private recreational areas or amenities.

For example, most voluntary lake associations will use membership dues to offset costs of maintaining its lake, community docks, private dirt access roads, or parking areas. But the association is generally not be expected to maintain paved access roads.

Other vintage suburban neighborhood associations generally have public roads and utilities, and use annual HOA dues solely to maintain a community pool or grassy park. There are no gated entries to the community itself, only to the shared amenities.

Voluntary Associations sometimes have architectural standards and deed restrictions, but they have limited enforcement power. For example, a voluntary association cannot impose a fine upon residents for violation of standards. It can only revoke membership in the association, or, if the matter is serious enough, report the issue to local code enforcement agencies. As a last resort, the association may file a complaint in civil or small claims court. Most of the time, the association uses a softer approach to encourage residents to abide by community standards.

Most voluntary associations serve as civic groups that present their members’ concerns, desires, and complaints to local governments. Many are also social groups that organize one or more neighborhood events for the enjoyment of residents in the community. Although some modern HOAs occasionally organize social events, most do not, as their primary stated purpose is “protecting property values” through strict enforcement of standards.

Voluntary association membership is not limited to homeowners. Usually, any resident can join the association, homeowner or not, although non-paying residents may not have the legal right to vote in the association, depending upon the bylaws.

Voluntary associations tend to rely upon participation of dozens of volunteers who serve on various committees. Leadership is decentralized, and many voluntary associations may have dozens of members rather than 3, 5, 7, or 9, which is more typical of mandatory HOAs.

Some examples follow:

Stoneleigh Community Association, Towson, MD

Stoneleigh Community Association is a voluntary association established in 1925. In recent years, the neighborhood has experienced major flooding headaches, costing homeowners thousands of dollars in property damage. In 2015, the association began working with Baltimore County officials to address the problem. Recently, the county approved $1 million to begin the design process for new storm drains.

Stoneleigh residents optimistic about county plans to relieve flooding

Margarita Cambest Margarita Cambest, The Baltimore Sun
Towson Times

May 8, 2017
After the first two storms, John Gramiccioni knew the severe flooding in front of his Kingston Road home, in Stoneleigh, was no fluke.

In the past, rain had caused some overflow in the Towson community, he said, but nothing like the knee-high deluges that started becoming a regular occurrence in 2015.

Kingston Road flooded five times that summer, as aging and overburdened storm drains overflowed and dumped water into a dip in Kingston Road, and into neighbors’ driveways, yards and basements, Gramiccioni said.

Now, after Stoneleigh residents spent more than two years negotiating with county officials for some relief, County Executive Kevin Kamenetz is proposing to spend $1 million in the coming fiscal year toward the preliminary design of a plan to end the flooding, though actual relief could be years away.

Members of the Stoneleigh Community Association began their push for county assistance in 2015. In October of that year, they pleaded their case to county officials through a presentation they made to the Planning Board. Stoneleigh’s drainage systems were outdated, they said, and drastically needed to be replaced before they caused even more damage to the mature community.

Stoneleigh residents have faced the flooding problem for years, Stoneleigh Community Association president Scott Thomas said.

“In the last couple of years we’re really glad that dedicated residents, our community association and representatives in the community have all come together as an integrated team and worked together for such a positive outcome with this project being funded,” Thomas said.

Read entire article:

Details about Stoneleigh can be found on their website.

According to its bylaws, Stoneleigh Community Association’s purpose:

Section 2. The Association is organized and shall operate as a non-profit organization for community and civic improvement and protection and other non-profit purposes. Any income received shall be applied only to the non-profit purposes and objectives of the organization, and no part of the income shall inure to the benefit of any officer or member.

The community association maintains and active Outside Affairs committee to interact with local government officials.

The function of the Board Position of Roads and Outside Affairs is to be a liaison with the Towson Community at large and to interface with Baltimore County Government and Maryland State Departments to accomplish maintenance and upgrades to the infrastructure of community streets and utilities.

Membership in Stonleigh Community Association is voluntary, at $50 per year. Residents can opt for a pool membership, which includes community dues. According to a recent newsletter, membership stands at about 70%.

The primary focus in Stoneleigh is on the community’s swimming pool and social events that occur every summer. No one is forced to pay for a pool membership, although pool members must pay the $50 association dues.


It’s been a summer oasis in Stoneleigh since 1925 (Baltimore Sun, June 23,2015)


As for architectural design standards, Stoneleigh community is not at all concerned with enforcement, preferring to allow the County to enforce Zoning ordinances and Building Codes.

Community Design Review
*There is not currently an empaneled committee nor has a recent board continued this policy*
When Stoneleigh was first developed, a set of covenants was placed in effect that included regulations more stringent than local jurisdiction law. Today, the community is governed by the Baltimore County Zoning and Building Codes which establish all restrictions and regulate all improvements for properties and homes. The Baltimore County web site provides a useful reference resource for residents who wish to obtain general code information. The web site also provides specific information and online forms for the most common types of required permits.

Good Neighbor Design Review Policy
Until several years ago, the Board of Governors had informally adopted a policy of requesting all residents to submit proposed property and house improvements to the Improvements and Restrictions Committee for its review.



West Lakes Association, Rome City, IN


According to its Facebook page, WLA is a voluntary civic association

The West Lakes Association was organized for the purpose of establishing and keeping a water level; maintaining good fishing, boating, and swimming; good water condition, protection of shore lines, vegetation of the lakes, etc. for the cottage owners or renters, and land owners on what is commonly know as West Lakes.

General Information
The West Lakes have a maximum depth ranging from 28 to 46 feet with bottoms of clay, marl, muck and sand. The lakes are connected by channels offering excellent fishing for Bluegill, Crappie, Bass and Northern Pike on a total of 453 acres of water. Approximately 513 families have homes at the West Lakes. Roughly, 211 families have their permanent homes at West Lakes, with 302 families using their property as a summer residence. These families maintain their permanent residence in 108 different cities or towns, located in Arizona, California, Florida, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, Texas and Wisconsin.


The Association recently re-energized its group in order to present its concerns about flooding to City leaders.

West Lakes homeowners call emergency meeting

By Angelica Robinson
Published: May 25, 2017, 12:13 am Updated: May 26, 2017, 10:18 am

NOBLE COUNTY, Ind. (WANE) – An emergency meeting was called in Noble County by the directors of the West Lakes Community Homeowners Association.

Over the last two weeks the lakes have spilled over their banks and with more rain Wednesday they were concerned about how bad it could get.

Many homes are surrounded by water and some of them even look like they are on islands. In addition to flooding people in the community are experiencing problems with sewage.

Read more (Video):



Summit Lake, Thurston County, Washington (near Olympia)

Here is another lake community in Washington State. According to their Facebook page, Summit Lakes Community Association:

We are a social club and NOT a Home Owners Association. We have community meetings, fun events, and a network for local information about the happenings at the lake.


Residents of Summit Lakes have experienced toxic algae blooms this spring, as well as in 2016. According to a recent article in The Olympian, a group of civic minded owners is organizing the Summit Lake Water Quality Team to work with their county government to restore and maintain water quality in Summit Lake. The issue is particularly important, since residents normally draw their water for drinking and cooking from the lake.

Toxic algae + sick dogs + dead deer = a quiet Memorial Day weekend on Summit Lake

BY Lisa Pemberton, The Olympian

May 29,2017

The sun was out, and it was a glorious three-day weekend.

Under normal circumstances, Summit Lake in northwest Thurston County would have been abuzz with Jet Skis, paddle boards and fishing boats.

But the sparkling blue water was unusually calm Monday. The lawns that skirt the 511-acre lake were quiet too.

Many residents canceled their family get-togethers due to a toxic algae advisory that’s in place, according to Vaughn Hodgins, president of the Summit Lake Community Association.

“Recreationally, it’s just completely shutdown,” he said.

On May 11, the Thurston County Board of Health declared the Summit Lake toxic algae bloom a community emergency. Health officials have urged residents in the area to avoid drinking, using or even touching the water.

Although the toxin has been found in other lakes in the region, many residents use Summit Lake’s water as their potable water source, which is why county officials are so concerned about the algae bloom. The next batch of test results are due Friday. The lake will need to have two weeks of safe levels before the advisory can be removed.

Summit Lake has about 430 lakefront lots, and about 200 that border the lake on the opposite side of the road, Hodgins said. Not all of the lots are developed, but some of the homes would have typically hosted large parties over a holiday weekend, he said.

Since the state of emergency was declared, a water truck has been making nightly deliveries at a nearby fire station. It’s become a sort of community gathering spot, according to Linda Darby, who has lived on the lake for 22 years.

“I’ve gotten to know more of the community than I ever have before,” she said. “I think we all have.”

After meeting at the water truck, some of the neighbors have formed a group called the Summit Lake Water Quality Team. So far, the team has about 20 members. A few of them met at Hodgins’ home Monday to share their plans with a reporter and photographer from the Olympian.

The group wants to conduct research, work with government agencies and keep the community informed on water quality issues. At this point, they’re trying to get as much information as possible to deal with the community emergency, Hodgins said. But eventually, the group might work toward creating a lake management district or an area of special concern for the county.

Their goal is simple: Find a way to keep the lake healthy so that it can stay open.

Read more here:



Isn’t it refreshing to see some HOAs with a true focus on community values as opposed to property values?

These are associations that, although voluntary in nature, operate transparently. There is a greater emphasis on social interaction and holding local government accountable to all residents of the community.

By contrast, one of the biggest complaints I hear from homeowners in mandatory HOAs: their association does not represent their interests in matters of local concern. Either the board represents the interests of the developer (especially if the HOA is still controlled by the developer), presents concerns of a minority group of homeowners, or simply remains silent on the issues of concern, failing to address them altogether. (I have personally experienced the latter.)

Mandatory HOAs that directly engage members with regard to civic matters, with the purpose of approaching their Cities or Counties, are surprisingly rare. And that is a shame, because this is an important and beneficial role that could be played by HOAs.



2 thoughts on “Civic and neighborhood associations very different from “modern” HOAs

  1. Jim, I am not an attorney, and offer no legal advice or opinions. I write my articles from a housing consumer perspective.

    In today’s article, I explain that voluntary membership HOAs have limited authority to enforce restrictions and standards.

    Any individual homeowner subject to covenants and restrictions can enforce those standards upon neighbors subject to the same standards by bringing a civil action in court. That is true whether there is a voluntary HOA, a mandatory HOA, or no HOA at all.

    Imposing a fine for non-complaince is but one possible method of enforcement that was not even legally permitted in HOAs prior to enactment of enabling state laws.(I believe most were enacted started in the 1990s or later.) Many states now permit mandatory association-governed communities (condominium, cooperative, and homeowners associations in planned communities) to impose monetary fines as a penalty for violation of covenants, restrictions, rules and standards.

    However, laws vary by state. Some state laws defer to the original CC&Rs – in other words, if the CC&Rs predate enabling state law, and those older CC&Rs did not provide the authority to impose fines, then the HOA would not be able to do so, unless the association lawfully amends its covenants to grant the board that authority. That normally requires a super-majority vote of approval by members.

    Readers should refer to current applicable statutes, and should also review governing documents for their association, plus any amendments. If the language is vague or contradictory, consider consulting a qualified attorney for a legal interpretation.

    FYI, Ohio statute that applies to planned communities with mandatory membership associations can be read here:

    The statute defines “planned community” as follows

    (M) “Planned community” means a community comprised of individual lots for which a deed, common plan, or declaration requires any of the following:

    (1) That owners become members of an owners association that governs the community;

    (2) That owners or the owners association holds or leases property or facilities for the benefit of the owners;

    (3) That owners support by membership or fees, property or facilities for all owners to use.

    Given that definition, I doubt that an attorney would opine that Forest Hill Homeowners Organization fits the legal definition of a planned community.

    I am familiar with FHHO, and I have written two previous articles about Forest Hill. I have read the covenants as posted on your website, and I did not see any provision in the CC&Rs that appeared to provide authority of the board of trustees to fine homeowners.

    Why would you want to convert a voluntary HOA to a mandatory one? Why would you want to begin to impose fines upon neighbors, rather than continue working with City code enforcement or banks that are not maintaining properties in foreclosure limbo?

    My stance on this issue is that it is nearly impossible for an HOA board or committee to fairly and objectively enforce standards by imposing a fine, which can then become an assessment subject to lien on a member’s home. The power to impose monetary fines is commonly abused, and rules are often enforced selectively. That is the reason why, as originally written, CC&Rs have historically been enforced by way of civil action before a disinterested tribunal or judge.

    Be careful what you wish for. Imposing fines and foreclosure by the HOA only increases the level of conflict in the community, results in artificially low sale prices at foreclosure auctions, and invites speculative investors or landlords who will probably not exhibit long term personal commitment to the community.

  2. He, I’m a trustee in a HOA in Cleveland Heights call Forest Hill Homeowners Organization, which I’m certain you’re already aware of. Reading all your stuff with respect and interest, I’m curious if your statement early in this article regarding the inabily of older HOAs to enforce standards. Is that fact established the same for every state and, how do you know, and also, is it feasible in your opinion to revise or somehow update an old HOA to allow it to modernize?
    Much Appreciate Any Response
    Jim Simpson
    1468 Burlington Rd
    Cleveland Hts, Ohio 44118

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