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HOA 101: A Breakdown of Community Governing Documents

Every homeowners' association (HOA) is governed by a distinct set of documents that define its authority. In short, these documents detail what homeowners and board members can and cannot do.

Unless you're highly adept at deciphering legalese, the language in your governing documents can be confusing. However, since everyone in the community has a stake in ensuring the governing documents are maintained, it’s crucial to understand them and their purpose. Read on to learn everything you need to know about governing documents, how they affect you, and more. 

What are governing documents?

Governing documents are, in essence, the constitution, law, and regulations that explain how a community is governed. They establish how the HOA is run and set expectations for residents and the association.

What’s included in the governing documents?

Although the terminology varies by location, the governing documents typically include the following:


The recorded map, plat, or plan states where the community and its various structures are located. It displays the precise location of units, lots, common areas, and limited common areas.


The Codes, Covenants, and Restrictions (known as the CC&Rs) are the community’s most important and comprehensive documents. They’re legally filed and outline the rights of the board, association, and residents. They usually have a legal description of the common areas and amenities, dues and fee requirements, maintenance obligations, and remodeling and development restrictions.


HOAs are often non-profit organizations, so they must file articles of incorporation with their designated secretary of state. These articles of incorporation are brief and simply bring the corporation into existence and define its basic purpose.


Bylaws are the formal rule book for the administration and day-to-day management of the association. In the bylaws, you’ll find information about the specific powers and duties of the association, board, and management company. Items like meeting requirements, voting rights, and election procedures are also addressed.   


The rules and regulations are an internal document that spells out the community’s general rules and regulations. Longer and more flexible than the CC&Rs, this is where specific details about things like parking, fence heights, and pets live.

How do governing documents affect me?

Governing documents are legally binding, and when you purchase a home in an HOA, you agree to abide by them. If you fail to abide by your association’s rules, guidelines, and expectations, it can lead to consequences for the community as a whole. Board members are tasked with upholding them, and residents are responsible for complying with them.

Where can I find my governing documents?

Your association’s governing documents should be provided to you at the time of closing, but you can also obtain them by any one of the following methods:

  • Community website or app. Many associations make their governing documents and necessary forms available electronically.
  • Public record. Because most governing documents must be filed with one or more governmental entities, many documents are public records and can be accessed through your local government offices.
  • Management company. Your professional management company is a great resource, too. They are typically able to provide a set of documents or offer direction on how to do so.  
  • Board members. If your board members have made themselves available to you, reach out and inquire about obtaining governing documents.  

Amending Your HOA’s Governing Documents

It’s often residents who are the first to point out inconsistencies in their governing documents. Outdated rules, ambiguous or missing information, and vague rights are all reasons to talk to your association’s board of directors. These important documents can be changed and/or updated. Read our article, “10 Steps for Amending Your Governing Documents,” for tips about preparing amendments to your HOA documents in a timely and efficient manner.