The HOA: Navigating our HOA
If you've ever met me, you know I am a rule follower. Brenton likes to ask for forgiveness...the HOA struggle.
As we were making the decision to buy the condo, we read through pages and pages of the HOA rules, financial statements, and emailed back and forth with the board and management company. I learned that condo HOA's can have some pretty specific rules. For example "All unnecessary noises such as bidding goodnight to departing guests, music, raised voices on porches, patios, decks, balconies or slamming vehicle/unit doors between 10:30 p.m. and 8:00 a.m. should/must be avoided." Note to self, bid goodnight to guests quietly.
Our HOA documents had a caveat for owners with second floor units...with the exception of the kitchen, bathrooms and laundry room, flooring had to be carpet. Those rooms could be linoleum. I'm sorry, do they even still make linoleum? Carpet in the living room? This can't be real. Fortunately (or so we thought) there was wording that said we could use other flooring if it were approved in writing by the board of directors. Okay perfect, we just needed to get approval and since we saw other second floor units on Zillow with hard flooring we figured it would not be a big deal to get this approval.
The purpose for this rule was due to sound transmission and first floor residents. Most multi-family housing communities do have rules regarding flooring however they usually revolve around Sound Transition Class (STC) and Impact Isolation Class (IIC) ratings. Most flooring materials come with these ratings.
“I'm sorry, do they even still make linoleum? Carpet in the living room? This can't be real.”
Fast forward to two weeks after we closed. We decide to attend the HOA meeting to get some clarity, show face, etc. We had done a little back and forth through email and we thought showing up in person would make a good impression and we wanted to meet some neighbors and get some answers about how to get our flooring approved.
Well, that was interesting. Including the four folks on the board, I think there were 5 other people there. We were called out for being new almost immediately. We came there to get approval for our floors and by the time we left Brenton had volunteered to be on the violation review committee (or something like that.) We waited until the end to talk to the board members to figure out how to get the flooring approved. After all, we had picked out the most BEAUTIFUL waterproof Luxury Vinyl Plank (LVP) with built in padding and planned to put down an additional underlay for sound barrier purposes. They had to approve this. We even had STC and IIC ratings that were nearly as high as possible for hard flooring. Considering the condition of the flooring we were ripping out, even the carpet, this was a huge upgrade for both us and our downstairs neighbor.
They tragically informed us that they won't approve anything but carpet on the second floor. No if, ands, or buts. We tried every loop hole, every idea, and unfortunately they would not budge. I asked about other listings we saw on Zillow (sorry peeps, I threw you under the bus but I didn't give exact unit numbers) and they mentioned that former boards approved hard floors and it's been nothing but trouble so they've decided to take a hard stance against it until the official rules are changed. They said they would approve our LVP for the wet areas (thank god) but no tile or hardwood. The positive news was that they were trying to get the HOA rules changed so that other flooring could be allowed but it could take up to two years to get approved. TWO YEARS!? There was an awkward exchange of laughs when I tried to inquire about how we could make that move along faster..."HAH it took two years for us to get the community golf cart approved..." Oh boy...
They provided us the necessary information to formally get the LVP and other renovation plans approved by the Architectural Review Board (ARB.) I'd like to mention that although they hardcore denied us, they were very kind, helpful, and easy to work with.
As we left the meeting I felt so defeated but had mentally come to terms with carpet in the living room. We already wanted carpet in the bedrooms so it was just the living space we had to mourn over. Brenton on the other hand casually said...well, we will just do it anyway. Now came about 3 weeks of deliberation about what to do.
Me: "We can't do that, what happens when we run into a board member and they ask to see the renovations?"
Brenton: "You tell them no, we don't like guests"
Me: "I don't think I can do that"
Brenton: "Tell them I don't like guests"
Me: "I'm not doing that"
Brenton: "We can say that the contractor did it by mistake"
Me: "They will tell us to make them fix it. If the contractor accidentally installed a toilet in the kitchen we'd make them fix it."
Me: "We can do it and then put area rugs over it and say that is how we interpreted the rules"
Brenton: "You literally asked if we could do that and they already said no"
Me: "Oh yeah, I ask too many questions. Ugh"
Brenton: "Let's just do it, what are they going to do? They can't enter our unit and tear up our floors"
Me: "No but they can put a lien on our condo"
Brenton: "I joined that review committee, remember, I'll just vote that they don't do that"
Me: "I think voting on your own violation is a conflict of interest. I don't think that will fly"
After a lot of Googling. Me: "There are rules in Florida about how HOA's have to give fines and liens. Maybe we do it and if we get caught we just own it. We say... yes, we purposely defied your floor rules! We know you can fine us, we know you can place a lien. It was a risk we were willing to take. We also know it takes a really long time for those things to happen so we figured by then, the new floor rules would be in place. Don't hate us."
Me: "But do we really want to be those jerks who just did it anyway?"
I know I live an easy life when my biggest moral dilemma is whether or not to break the HOA rules about flooring but I am not kidding when I say I was losing sleep over this. I would also like to point out that we did a whole bunch of research on flooring and sound ratings and we truly believe the floors we were planning to install would be better sound wise than the existing carpet floors so it would be a win/win for us and our downstairs neighbor.
The Last-Ditch Effort:
Brenton: "We do a scientific experiment. A sound test with the cooperation of our downstairs neighbor. If the new floors pass the test, we get them everywhere. If they don't, we do carpet. We can be the pilot for the new rules that they want to create. They have to agree to that"
Me: " YES, let's write a proposal"
If you're still reading this blog post, below is what we submitted along with the additional ARB paperwork. In our opinion, it was compelling and made sense!
Apparently the BOD did not agree - denied! Then while still in debates about breaking the rules our very sweet downstairs neighbor called us to tell us how excited she is that we are her new neighbors and how she appreciates that we have been so kind and considerate of her while doing all of our renovations. She went on and on about how grateful she is that we bought the condo above her and how glad she is that we are putting the proper flooring in so that it's more sound proof than it is now. She said she already hears us all the time but is hoping the new floors are better.
There is no way we can break these rules. We will literally go to hell if we do. Carpet it is. You win HOA. Until next time.
Shout Out to our sweet downstairs neighbor and next door neighbor who have been dealing with the noise of our renovation during a quarantine. And to our Board of Directors who have to deal with people like us trying to get around the rules. We appreciate all that you do!