HOA Governing Documents

Understanding Your Community's Governing Documents

Being an effective HOA board member means staying organized and on top of all the rules and guidelines that keep your association running. At the heart of this organization are HOA governing documents.

Each HOA is slightly different, and the intricacies behind each set of regulations and guidelines can be complex, but a basic understanding of the different types of documents and their purpose can save your board a world of confusion and headaches.

So, if you’re wondering, “What are HOA governing documents?” You’re not alone.

What Are HOA Governing Documents?

HOA governing documents are the official rules of a community, set down on paper (or these days, more likely digitally) and agreed upon by homeowners in the community and HOA board members.

HOA documents play an essential role in ensuring a community's flawless functioning and maintenance by providing guidelines and regulations to help maintain property values and promote a harmonious living environment. But communities don't run on documents alone.

In fact, many HOA boards choose to partner with an outside HOA management company since working with a reliable HOA management company can significantly assist in efficiently managing the community's day-to-day operations, ensuring that rules are enforced, and addressing any issues that may arise.

Hierarchy of HOA Governing Documents

With so many types of documents that dictate how homeowners interact with the neighborhood, occasionally, there may be conflicts or disagreements on how the rules are interpreted.

So, which rule wins out? Luckily, there’s an HOA governing documents hierarchy to observe. There's a specific order in which HOA governing documents should be observed. The acronym PCAB can help you determine which rule is most important when conflict arises.

It stands for:

  1. The Laws of the Land. These aren’t part of our PCAB acronym, but it should be stated that any federal, state, or city ordinance legislation must be upheld at every level.
  2. HOA/Community Plan. Plan is the P in our acronym. The Community Plan is the first document that must be observed in a HOA-governed neighborhood.
  3. Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions (CC&Rs): This document states the division of power and the rights and responsibilities between the HOA and its members.
  4. Articles of Incorporation
  5. Bylaws

If one of these documents contradicts the other, the highest-ranking document is what should be followed. Remember your acronym PCAB: P, CC&Rs, articles of incorporation, and bylaws.

Types of HOA Governing Documents

There are several main types of HOA governing documents that guide association operations. HOA board members should understand the different types of HOA governing documents to best serve and lead the neighborhood.

Here's what you need to know about each of them:


When dealing with a homeowners' association (HOA), it is essential to understand their Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions (CC&Rs). These describe the rights and obligations of each owner and those of the association itself and may vary significantly in both what they say and how long they are.

CC&Rs typically outline the boundaries of each unit or lot and those of the development's common area. They will describe the maintenance responsibilities of each owner and those assumed by the HOA, the operating costs to the owners, how they will be collected, and the rights and protections granted to mortgage holders.

Additionally, they usually lay out the HOA's powers of enforcement, procedures to resolve disputes, and the restrictions on owner usage, which might include regulations governing pets, how an owner alters the property, and the uses of the common area.

Community Plans

The Community Plan is occasionally included in the Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions. Used interchangeably with a few other terms, such as "subdivision map," this refers to a visual drawing or illustration of how a property is divided into units and lots.

Prepared by licensed professionals, reviewed by government agencies, and then filed with county authorities, these documents mark the official boundaries of a planned development. Typically filed when a planned community is first designed, they are connected to every deed and mortgage on the parcel.

The agreement of others linked to the Community Plan may be needed to make any changes, although alterations are possible over time. References to a community plan may also mean future standards and zoning guidelines, which limit further development and changes.


HOA bylaws, not to be confused with CC&Rs, describe the procedures and mechanics of homeowner's association management and decision-making. This includes officer and director positions and how they are filled, how meetings, voting, and notification are undertaken for owners’ and board members’ decisions, and the methods of record-keeping and reporting.

Bylaws are typically created by a legal professional and reviewed by the government when a development is built. However, they are not filed with any government agency, which can make them easier to change than some other documents.

Rules and Regulations

In addition to any regulations imposed by the state and local government, HOAs often have procedures for passing internal homeowner association rules through the processes outlined in their CC&Rs. These rules include restrictions on how much a unit or lot may be altered, pets, waste disposal, and the use of signage, parking, and recreational facilities.

CC&Rs take precedence over rules regarding legal importance since rules are purely internal, governing owner activities that fall under the sphere of the HOA's concern. These would likely be changed through procedures outlined in the bylaws, such as by a vote of board members or the HOA members.

Articles of Incorporation/Association

Often called "the articles," these are typically short documents that set the name of the HOA, assert that it is a nonprofit mutual-benefit corporation, and identify its initial agent, the individual authorized to receive legal notices on the HOA's behalf.

This creates the association as a legal entity and is a necessary prelude to all the other steps when forming an incorporated HOA. Some HOAs are not incorporated but still draw up the articles, which is not technically necessary.

The Articles of Incorporation are sometimes made longer and more extensive by including information about voting, directors, and amendments. However, these may also be left for later documents to fill in.

The Purpose of HOA Governing Documents

By adhering to the guidelines outlined in the HOA documents and working closely with a reputable HOA management company, your HOA board can foster a neighborhood that homeowners choose to buy into for years to come.

HOA Governing Documents FAQsAre HOA Governing Documents and Rules Legally Binding?

Yes, HOA rules are legally binding on homeowners. In purchasing a home in a community with an HOA, homeowners agree to abide by the HOA's covenants, conditions, and restrictions (CC&Rs) and bylaws. CC&Rs and other governing documents outline the rules and regulations that govern the community, including architectural standards, landscaping requirements, and parking restrictions.

What Happens If I Violate the CC&Rs or HOA Rules and Regulations?

If you violate the CC&Rs or HOA rules and regulations, the HOA may take a variety of disciplinary actions, including:

  • Sending you a warning letter
  • Fining you
  • Suspending your HOA privileges
  • Suspending or revoking your parking pass
  • Placing a lien on your home
  • Filing a lawsuit against you

However, the specific disciplinary action that an HOA takes will depend on the severity of the violation and the HOA's governing documents.

Can the CC&Rs or Bylaws Be Changed?

Yes, the CC&Rs and bylaws can be changed, but the process varies from state to state, even neighborhood to neighborhood. In most cases, the HOA board of directors must propose the changes and then hold a vote of the homeowners. If the majority of homeowners approve the changes, they will go into effect.

What Is the Difference Between HOA Bylaws and Covenants?

Bylaws are the rules and regulations that govern the operation of the HOA itself, addressing how the board of directors is elected, how meetings are conducted, and how the HOA's finances are managed, for example. The CC&Rs, on the other hand, govern the restrictions on the use of property and cover things like architectural standards, landscaping requirements, and parking restrictions.

How Much Should HOA Governing Documents Cost?

The cost of HOA documents varies from state to state and community to community. Some states will send you a digital copy after receiving a formal written request; others may charge up to $0.15 per page to deliver a hard copy. Across the board, however, it’s unlikely you’ll pay more than $100 for a full copy of your HOA's governing documents.

How Do I Get Copies of HOA Governing Documents?

Usually, you can obtain copies of your HOA's governing documents from your HOA management company. If you are unsure how to contact the HOA management company, check the HOA's website or contact your local government office.

What Is the Board of Directors Responsible For?

The board of directors is responsible for managing the HOA's day-to-day operations. This includes maintaining the common areas, enforcing the HOA rules and regulations, and managing the HOA's finances. The board of directors is also responsible for ensuring the HOA complies with all applicable laws and regulations.

An HOA management company can take on many of these responsibilities, freeing up board members to focus on the more rewarding parts of the job and giving them the time to foster and be active members of their HOA community.