Home-based businesses. Most associations allow them, but restrict signage and require that the business not cause extra traffic in the neighborhood. The Governing Documents in older associations may flatly prohibit home businesses and you may be told, “Don’t worry about that, we have never enforced it.” That may be true, but if you proceed with a purchase under these circumstances, you risk that this attitude may change someday.
Leases. Do you want the flexibility to lease your place? Many smaller associations prohibit leasing entirely but most other communities allow it. As always, the answer is in the Governing Documents. Some places set a maximum number that can be rental units at any given time, to preserve the owner-occupied character of the complex. The downside of this method is that if the quota has been reached, everyone else is “wait listed” and unable to lease out their unit until some existing rentals disappear.
Even if you never want to be a landlord, find out the current percentage of renters and the length of the waiting list, if any. A high number might mean owners resorted to leasing only because they could not sell, indicating poor resale appeal. High leasing volumes are also negative because renters do not have the same incentive as owners to keep things in top shape.
Parking. Parking issues cause lots of headaches. If you are entitled to two parking stalls, but have three cars, you typically cannot use the community’s guest areas for your overflow. And don’t assume that you can use one of your stalls for your boat, RV or extra storage. On-street parking, if allowed, is community property. Just because there’s an available spot in front of your unit does not mean that you have exclusive rights to it. Check the HOA rules carefully.
Pets and Wildlife. The rules about animals in HOA communities are wide-ranging and often fiercely debated. Some communities ban all pets. (Although I have no statistics to back this up, my gut says “no pets” policies hurt resale prices.) Other places have no restrictions whatsoever. But most HOAs occupy the middle ground – allowing pets but limiting the type and number per unit.
Dogs provoke the most controversy because there is no universal agreement on which canine traits are acceptable. Banning breeds with aggressive reputations (such as pit bulls and Rottweilers) is common, which sadly allows no exception for the mild-mannered ones. Another method is to set height and/or weight restricti0ns that determine which dogs will be allowed. Dog-owners should be wary of buying where this rule applies, because these restrictions typically allow only small dogs and probably much smaller than one would expect.
If you have cats, assume that they must always be kept indoors. Bird-lovers need to know that many places prohibit bird feeders because seeds on the ground cause rodent problems. Feeding pigeons is generally frowned upon. And no matter what HOA rules are in place, deer and rabbits will always help themselves to everything, especially your most highly-prized plants.