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An organization of the homeowners in a subdivision or a group of related subdivisions. In order to have the ability to collect dues and enforce rules, the association must be created by a legal document that was drawn up and filed before the first lot or home is sold, or by a legal document signed by 100 percent of the property owners and then filed in the public records.
• The associations sometimes own common areas. They also enforce restrictive covenants for the subdivision, such as setback lines, prohibitions against parking motor homes in drive- ways, restrictions on home-based businesses, and even architectural and landscaping restrictions. Often, one cannot cut trees, paint a house, add a porch, or make any other changes without first submitting detailed plans to an architectural review committee.
• The associations generally collect monthly dues in an amount barely sufficient to pay for common area maintenance and an annual party. Maintenance could be as minor as buying new flowers for the entrance or as pervasive as maintaining private roads in a gated community; siltation control and dredging for a private lake; costs of a security system and/or guard; and the care and upkeep of swimming pools, tennis courts, and other recreational facilities. In the absence of a fund for attorneys' fees, or the ability to assess additional dues for attorneys' fees in order to take rule breakers to court, the result is that rules generally go unenforced except as may be possible through peer pressure.
• Most homeowners associations have the right to impose fines and to place liens on property and force a sale if the fines are not paid, but this route is rarely successful without long and expensive litigation. Usually, the liens remain in place until the property is eventually sold, and then they are collected, but this has little deterrent value when trying to stop current rule violations.