Homeowner’s Association vs. Neighborhood Association – what’s the difference?

If you’ve ever confused the two, you’re not alone.

In the mid-1990s, a group of neighbors in The Reservation neighborhood of Richardson, Texas came together as volunteers to keep their neighborhood clean, cultivate a sense of community pride, and create opportunities for residents to socialize.

They called their new organization a homeowner’s association.

The Reservation Homeowner’s Association (as it used to be known)

Back then, the name didn’t matter much. But twenty years later, they struggled to recruit new members. Neighbors refused to join because “they didn’t want to be part of what they believed was a homeowners association (HOA) with all its rules,” reports longtime resident Bill McCalpin.

The organization eventually rebranded. Today, the 442 members of The Reservation Neighborhood Association know the difference matters, “and so should you,” says McCalpin.

So what differences should you know?

Homeowner’s Associations

A homeowner’s association (HOA) is usually formed by a developer at the time a subdivision is created. Most people who buy a home within an HOA know it at the time of purchase — it’s usually spelled out in the deed, and membership is required. Monthly dues provide for the maintenance of common areas like pools or clubhouses.

An HOA can also enforce restrictions. HOAs can spell out such things as fence height, the architectural style of new construction, and other rules. These are essentially contractual obligations, and all of the homeowners within that HOA have the right to see that the other homeowners follow the rules.

Enforcing those rules can be a thankless job, though, and this is where HOAs sometimes get a bad rap. While most HOAs are perfectly drama-free, occasionally stories like the homeowner who parked a WWII tank in front of his house or the three-year court battle over a Tigger mailbox will make local headlines.

Don’t be this guy.

Neighborhood Associations

Neighborhood associations have a different mission. Not only is participation voluntary, neighborhood associations generally focus on things that neighbors want to do, not what they have to do.

The River Park Neighborhood Association recently got together and decided what they wanted. Then they told this guy.

As the city of Vancouver, WA says, neighborhood associations offer a place to “meet friends, exchange information, create projects and priorities, propose solutions, and have fun.”

Benefits of a neighborhood association include:

  • A forum for ideas. A neighborhood association gives residents a place to raise concerns and brainstorm solutions. Whether that’s more parks or less crime, your neighborhood association is where ideas can come together into action.

  • Communication with local government. Recognized neighborhood associations can speak to city government with a more clear and organized voice than unassociated neighbors. And when local government wants to share information and opportunities with residents, associations can be a primary point of contact.

  • Growing closer. Many neighborhood associations have block parties or other special events so neighbors can have fun while keeping in touch with each other.

And, unlike homeowner’s associations, members of a neighborhood association aren’t necessarily homeowners. Renters should be just as welcome, as they are also stakeholders in the neighborhood’s overall health.

Bringing it all home

To sum it up, while an HOA will often focus on things a homeowner can’t do, a neighborhood association opens doors to the things neighbors can.

What would your neighbors like those things to be? Connect with your neighborhood association to find out. Or if there isn’t one, consider getting one started — and let NRC know how we can help!