Homeowners’ associations or groups can be formal or informal, an offshoot of city government or a group without legal power, representing the entire town or just one block. These groups can be organized for good, to assist the homeowners, or for the exclusion of those who are not like the majority.
If you are purchasing a condominium or cooperative you probably will have a homeowners’ association that is elected to pass rules that affect owners and renters alike. You may find the same legal association in gated communities, where homes are accessed only by passing through a security entrance. The homeowners’ associations usually levy a monthly charge against the individual homeowner that covers such things as maintenance to common areas. Like any democratic organization, if the majority of the homeowners disagree with what the association is doing, there are avenues for appeal, including court action. Depending on who holds the power, these organizations can be of great benefit to the homeowners or they can enforce a standard that denies any self-expression. Power shifts by owners lobbying, elections, or by court action.
The informal organizations, while not passing rules that hold the power of law, can be very influential in an area just by peer pressure. Many of these organizations thrive on the annual get together, picnic, or block party. While these social events may be great, some residents can feel pressured to attend because they do not want to offend the neighbors or just because the event blocks their access to the street.
A common negative side to the informal organization is lack of acceptance for the differences in homeowners. Sometimes this comes out as the not-so-subtle discrimination against the new minority family that just moved in down the block. It can also be talking down to the blue-collar worker who finally saved enough to move his family to the ritzy white-collar neighborhood, or the purposeful exclusion of child-free-by-choice couple in a suburban bastion of reproduction.
Real estate listings include the formal homeowners’ association and the dues that the homeowner must pay to the association. Your real estate professional may also be able to get you a copy of the association’s charter to see what those dues pay for and the policy of raising the dues.
It is almost impossible to determine if the area you are looking at has an informal organization. Once you decide on a certain area, you may want to take a walk around and talk to the neighbors for their opinion.