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Association Document Hierarchy and why it’s important to Know Which Document Prevails

Becoming a member of an association, either for first-time association members or even homeowners looking to find a new community to move into, should be something that residents look forward to. However, being presented with the complete set of community association documents can be daunting and leave even the most seasoned association owner a little overwhelmed. This month, we will go over the various documents common to associations, we’ll discuss what they mean, why they’re important, how to obtain copies of them, and how associations can work toward ensuring updates and changes are being communicated effectively to the members they serve.

Every resident of an association is entitled to access the entirety of the association’s documents that pertain to them; everything from the rules and regulations of the association upon its formulation down to the HOA’s insurance policies. Every association should provide the ability to access this list in its entirety so that residents have a complete understanding of how and why their respective HOA functions the way that it does. Access to association documents, and understanding their intent, provide residents, new or existing, with the big picture of their association’s structure.

Below we will list the most common association documents, but one important item to note is that there is also a hierarchy to association documents or the succession these documents follow to help define which laws, rules, or regulations overrule which. The hierarchy’s value is how it provides context to each category of HOA documents so that residents if they are searching for documentation, know how to interpret them while taking into account how they supersede or are overruled by other documents.

The hierarchy of association documentation is as follows:

1.       City, county, state, or federal laws: The higher the level, the greater the precedence. In some cases, laws may be written in such a way that various association governing documents are deferred to.

2.       Recorded plat, map, or plan that is documented in the county recorder's office: These plans help designate ownership plots and the geographical limits of the association's jurisdiction.

3.       CC&Rs (or a declaration of condominium for COAs)

4.       Supplementary declarations

5.       Articles of incorporation or corporate charter (if any exist)

6.       Bylaws

7.       Rules and regulations

8.       General resolutions

In general, the document that gets recorded first is the one that usually governs. Below the law, the top document in the hierarchy is the plat which the developer files in the county recorders' office defining the geographical limits of the development. The declaration usually comes next. Once an association declares its existence, it usually goes on to file as a corporation or other entity, and then goes on to develop CC&Rs and bylaws, and so on down the chain.

Understanding the hierarchy of governing documents can help avoid or settle costly litigation and predict how a court may rule. This, in turn, can save associations and their members thousands of dollars in court fees.

But how can a volunteer Board of Directors expect to safely navigate through complicated situations like those presented by issues related to conflicting association governing documents? There's one simple solution available to associations in need of guidance: Work with an association management company!

In addition to providing financial management, dues collection, and governance, professional association managers help their clients comply with federal, state, and local laws and can help associations avoid costly litigation. If you have questions about your association's document hierarchy, myStreet can help!

Join us over the next month as we explore association documents in more detail.


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