Homeowners associations provide valuable protection for residents who live in the Georgia neighborhoods the organizations govern. Many homeowners believe they protect their property value by ensuring that neighboring properties meet certain standards. A homeowners association also applies the principle of strength in numbers by allowing members of a community to pool their consumer power to obtain discounted rates for some utility services, such as cable television service, and to create common areas, such as swimming pools. State law sets the rules for homeowners associations and their members.
The Georgia Property Owners' Association Act defines the legal parameters for homeowners associations. The act requires associations to file with the state a declaration of covenants, restrictions and regulations that the HOA requires every property owner within its boundaries to follow. Covenants and restrictions include rules regarding fence construction, lawn maintenance and noise levels within the neighborhood. An elected board oversees the HOA rules.
Georgia state law allows HOA boards to impose and assess fines and temporarily suspend voting rights and use of commons areas when members fail to comply with HOA covenants. State laws also require that lot owners and occupants of homes on the lots be allowed access to their properties, even while the HOA board assesses fines and other penalties. HOA boards often make changes to association bylaws and any member is free to approach the board to recommend a bylaw change. Members also have the right to appeal a HOA board ruling.
Homeowners associations in Georgia include in their bylaws specific information that identifies the geographic boundaries of the HOA. Any property within the boundaries is subject to the HOA's bylaws. The bylaws include a description of these geographic boundaries, which in many cases match the boundaries of a particular subdivision. Often, the subdivision and association share the same name. The developers of these subdivisions often create the HOAs. In other cases, a group of residents determines the geographic boundaries. To create an HOA, the majority of all property owners within the specified geographic area must vote in favor. Vacant lots are included in the HOA as long as they are included in the geographic description of the HOA. Anyone who builds a home on these lots is required to follow the rules the HOA sets in place.
Some of Georgia's HOAs are resident-initiated. In most cases, however, the developers who build subdivisions create a HOA and a resident-run board eventually takes control. The transfer generally takes place once a neighborhood reaches a certain percentage of completed homes. Traditional HOAs enforce their will upon all members of the community, who must follow rules. Some HOAs, however, are voluntary organizations. Only those who wish to join are required to pay membership fees and follow the HOA's standards. Residents who do not pay fees generally cannot use common areas, such as meeting rooms, pools and exercise facilities.
Georgia state law requires HOAs within the state to gain incorporation as either a business corporation or as a nonprofit membership corporation. The corporate name must include: "Homeowners", "property owners" or "association." The association is also subject to applicable laws regarding corporations in the state. To file for incorporation, you must establish a board of directors and elected officers. The association also must maintain copies of incorporation and bylaws.
Some Georgia residents oppose the legal powers the state's homeowners associations hold. One group, the American Homeowners Resource Center, has recommended a Bill of Rights for Georgia homeowners. The concept is centered on the recognition of "traditional ideals of freedom, individuality and resourcefulness in the design, construction and operation of homeowner associations." It also calls for elections supervised by the state elections board and one-year term limits for HOA board members.