What are Governing Documents
As a homeowners association is a legally incorporated organization, it is governed by a group of documents. Each document contains provisions relating to different aspects of the association, but there is a strict hierarchy. A provision from a document higher on the scale will always outrule a conflicting provision in a lower document. These documents allow the association to function, and more importantly, when followed, flourish.
The highest document on the hierarchy is the Declaration of Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions (CC&Rs) and recorded map. The map is the official plat of the community, showing the boundaries and each individual lot. The CC&Rs begin by defining ownership of the elements of the community, such as what are considered common areas, limited common elements, and lots, and the responsibility for maintenance of each. Also included are the powers for funding the association and purposes and goals. The restrictions make up the largest portion of the document, outlining the protective standards for the community. These protective standards are to ensure the quality of the community and the value of the homes. Some CC&Rs include many explicit restrictions, such as rules for sheds and other architectural guidelines, leasing restrictions, and parking rules. Other CC&Rs can be very general and only state the board of directors has the power to establish restrictions and guidelines as they see fit, with the benefit of the community in mind.
The articles of incorporation come in just below the CC&Rs in the hierarchy. They legally establish the association as a nonprofit corporation, the general powers of the HOA, with the formation of the board of directors.
The by-laws, sitting below the articles, set the procedures and general rules for governmental operation. These procedures include meeting notices and requirements, the number of board members and officers, and so forth.
A power listed in the CC&Rs is the ability of the board to write a more concise rules and regulations document, which will fall below the by-laws. These rules and regulations often provide a more detailed explanation of the restrictions in the CC&Rs, then establish necessary guidelines for the community. These guidelines include additional architectural guidelines, and covenant enforcement and collections procedures. All guidelines must comply with the applicable local, state, and federal laws, and cannot conflict with anything set forth in a document with a higher ranking. Rules and regulations documents may or may not be legally adopted.
For clarification purposes, each document begins with a glossary of frequently used terms. These definitions will hold true throughout the document and aid in understanding of legal terminology.
Governing documents can be amended if need be, but the process can also be time-consuming and confusing. The document to be amended will state the procedures for making an amendment, in addition to any state and county procedures. An HOA attorney can be most helpful to ensure an amendment is made appropriately.
In order to make living in a homeowners association the best experience possible, always read and understand the governing documents.