HOAs vs neighborhood associations: Understanding the difference

April 23, 2024: Delayed construction sites like this are all throughout the city. (Copyright 2024 by KPRC Click2Houston - All rights reserved.)

HOUSTON – If you live in the Houston area, you’ve probably noticed some new developments in your neighborhood. Whether it’s remodeling updates on someone’s home or developers breaking ground on a new project, construction is happening all over the city.

During KPRC 2′s ‘Our Town: Sunnyside,’ KPRC 2 reporter Rilwan Balogun heard of the area civic club needing help dealing with developers ignoring the Sunnyside deed restrictions. Much of the issue surrounds single-family homes and duplex’s verbiage.

Many of the residents we talked to shared the possibility of their history being erased and builders not following current building codes.

But, another issue many communities like Sunnyside face is not having traditional homeowners associations.

What’s an HOA and how does it work?

Homeowner associations are usually run by a board of directors who are resident homeowners elected by the community.

HOAs are governed by a set of bylaws that homeowners who live in the community follow. Depending on your neighborhood and the type of HOA you live in, you have control over what goes on inside your home, but the HOAD governs the exterior maintenance and changes.

HOAs have the right to raise fees, charge you a special fee and enforce rules that have been broken.

Types of HOAs

  • HOA. An HOA includes a volunteer board elected by owners who pay fees to have common areas maintained and repaired. An HOA will also establish and enforce rules.
  • Condominium association. A condo association has a board elected by owners who will manage the community rules and common elements, including the building exterior. Monthly fees are charged for maintenance and services.
  • Cooperative association. Co-op members own shares of the building and pay a monthly fee for maintenance and services. The association owns the building and pays property taxes.
  • Townhouse Owners Association. Homeowners are responsible for their own homes and the association collects fees to pay for common area maintenance and services such as trash collection.
  • Master association. A master association is an umbrella association over multiple subdivisions and neighborhoods that manages common amenities such as streets and recreational amenities.
  • Civic association. A voluntary organization of neighbors without the ability to enforce rules or charge homeowner association dues.

Sunnyside is one of 209 communities that have a civic club or civic association.

The problem we have seen since the Our Town special, in communities similar to Sunnyside, with no standard HOA, is the city approving developers’ building permits, but halting construction once the civic club intervenes because of deed restrictions.

Two developers from Sunnyside told KPRC 2 they ran into this problem.

They said they were both approved by the city of Houston to start developing duplexes in the neighborhood, but halfway through completing their projects, the city intervened, halting the process. The city cited both developers for “restriction discrepancies” after the neighborhood’s civic club complained.

The problem developers are facing is the lack of communication, and neighboring civic clubs agree -- there should be an easier way to learn about approved building permits.

According to Public Works, civic clubs can request the information directly from them.

“The Houston Permitting Center provides updates on permit applications to civic clubs upon request. Civic associations or any person can report suspected violations of deed restrictions to the City Attorney’s Office for a complaint investigation. The City Attorney’s Office, Neighborhood Services, will determine if there are deed restrictions and if the City has jurisdiction to enforce the complained of violation (the City has limited authority to enforce certain deed restrictions).”

KPRC 2 Investigates team reached out to more than 200 civic clubs in the Houston area, asking them if they were aware of this protocol. Nearly 50 civic clubs responded, so far.

This is the email KPRC 2 Investigates sent to the civic clubs:

We’re reaching out because we are working on a story dealing with civic clubs and the permitting process through the city dealing with deed restrictions.

While doing a story in Sunnyside dealing with deed restrictions, we found some confusion within the overall process. It appears developers get approved for a build, and civic clubs realize it doesn’t hit code, and that build gets red-tagged.

Public Works tells us, “The Houston Permitting Center provides updates on permit applications to civic clubs upon request.”

We want to find out if your civic club requests this information and how regularly you receive it.

We would also like to know your method of requesting that information. Is it through email, is there a website you can go to and see the building permits?

Would it be helpful if the city had a website your civic club could go to for approved building permits to prevent a build in the early stages?

About the Authors

As an Emmy award-winning journalist, Jason strives to serve the community by telling in-depth stories and taking on challenges many pass over. When he’s not working, he’s spending time with his girlfriend Rosie, and dog named Dug.

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