Common areas and common elements in a homeowners’ association do not belong to a single owner. They are owned by the association, and the association has responsibility for maintaining and governing the activity. Use of the common areas is intended for all residents. Yet, more and more meetings, groups and individuals take over common areas so they aren’t available for other owners.
It’s often difficult for the Board to say no when an owner asks to use a common area for a longer than normal timeframe. There are so many good causes, and you don’t want to be the one to rain on the parade. Perhaps it’s a community function, a fund raiser, a school group, etc. Other times, an individual owner tests the boundaries. Whatever the reason, the Board must consider what’s best for the community as a whole before granting or denying access to a common area.
If your HOA has some problems with common areas, the first thing you need to do is read your governing documents. When your documents state that common facilities are for non-exclusive use, this means that they are available to all owners. Facilities are usually reserved on a first-come basis, so there will be times when an owner doesn’t get his/her first or second choice. Do your governing documents clearly define the Board’s authority and the rights of the owners? If there are some shady areas, consider amending the guidelines so that they are easier for owners to understand.
Storage is always limited HOAs, so it’s not unusual for an owner or a committee to claim a common area space for storage. This could be a coat closet, an area in the clubhouse kitchen or a small meeting room. Because this takes away access from all the owners, it could be viewed as “exclusive use” over the long-term—making it necessary to ask for owners’ approval. If space is at a premium in your association, check out some off-site options for storage to recommend to owners and committees. As you define what works for your HOA, seek legal guidance if your Board has a question about “exclusive” vs. “non-exclusive” use of common areas.
While it can be challenging to oversee common areas, governing documents that clearly define the use of common facilities makes it easier to manage. If the Board is considering allowing “exclusive” use of a common area for a period of time, input from the owners is vital.
One of the primary functions of an HOA Board is to enforce the CC&Rs of the association. Ensure that your governing documents are up-to-date and that the Board follows the rules for the common areas. Consistent and fair enforcement creates a happier and amiable community.