As San Francisco real estate agents, we are often asked about condo Homeowner Associations, aka HOAs,  by our home buyer clients. What are they? What do they do? What do they cover? Is it a waste of money? And so forth.

Also known as an HOA, a Homeowners Association is the organization formed to run and maintain a subdivision or planned unit development such as a condo, town home, gated community or neighborhood subdivision. In San Francisco, condos are the most common forms of HOAs though there are a few single family home neighborhoods that have annual fees.  Think St Francis Woods… Members of the HOA (i.e. the owners) are obligated to pay fees to their HOA. The fee and what it covers varies from association to association. The homeowners association is governed by the CCRs (Covenants, Codes and Restrictions).

While the oversight of HOA’s in most states is minimal, California has a body of HOA laws that mostly serve to protect homeowners. As Realtors, we cannot offer legal advice about HOA’s, but we can offer guidelines about the types of questions you should be asking when considering a condo purchase.


The Benefits of Homeowners Associations in San Francisco

Being part of a collective like an HOA does come with certain benefits as a homeowner. Benefits can include:

  • Common area maintenance and property management services
  • Garbage and Water service (and sometimes, other utilities)
  • Community activities and involvement
  • Recreational amenities such as pools, gyms and other common areas
  • Building insurance coverage
  • Adherence to community standards for both the building’s appearance and occupant’s behavior (think pet policy or short term rental restrictions)

In smaller HOAs, such as the many San Francisco Victorian and Edwardian multiunit buildings, the homeowners association is often quite casual. Still governed by the CCRs, you may find that there is no outside property management and that bills are split and paid as they come. The larger high rises such as those in Soma and South Beach will have professional management and more perks (and higher dues). There are pros and cons to each.


Shopping for a condo? Here are good questions to ask about the HOA.


The SFhotlist Team at Keller Williams San Francisco works with many San Francisco condo buyers. Over the years, we’ve come up with a list of frequently asked questions about the condo association. Here are some of the most common questions Realtors are asked about HOA’s in San Francisco.


  1. Am I able to rent out my unit?

The answer to this question will vary by HOA. Ask whether or not there are any rental restrictions, either for short term (under 30 days) or long-term (typically 6 months or more). You can also ask how many units in the building are currently rented. Banks have restrictions on the ratio of owner-occupied to rental units so you’ll want to know in advance.


  1. What is the pet policy?

Considering there are more dogs in San Francisco than children, the answer will affect many prospective homeowners. In fact, the question is so common that Danielle Lazier now posts the pet policy directly in the MLS agent remarks!

Good news for pet lovers: California law prohibits condo deed restrictions against keeping pets. The Davis-Stirling Act states that no condo association can prohibit a unit owner from keeping at least one pet, subject to the HOA rules. (Civ. Code §4715) “Pet” is defined as any domesticated dog, cat, bird, aquatic animal kept in an aquarium, or other animal agreed on by the HOA and the unit owner. However, the HOA may limit the number, size and breed of pet the owner may keep.

Service animals must always be permitted. The Americans with Disabilities Act allows people with disabilities to bring their service animals wherever the public is allowed.


  1. Why are the HOA dues so high?

HOA dues in San Francisco range from approximately $175 all of the way to $2000+ per month. As is probably obvious, the dues for a Noe Valley duplex with no elevator, no doorman and no saline swimming pool will be lower than those for a penthouse at Lumina with all of the luxury high rise bells and whistles.

In general, HOA dues cover the costs to maintain and manage the building. This can include property insurance, water, garbage, landscaping, management and maintaining a “reserve account” put aside for bigger ticket maintenance items like exterior painting, installing a new roof, etc.

If the operating budget is too low with no reserves set aside, the costs for unexpected needs will be placed suddenly on the HOA members in the form of a special assessment, which can be quite the financial shock if members aren’t prepared.

Some associations choose not to keep reserves so that the monthly fee is low. If you buy into a building like this, you get to keep more of your money each month but be prepared to share the costs of maintenance as it happens over time.


  1. What are the restrictions on home remodeling and alterations?

Each HOA will have its own restrictions on remodeling and unit alterations. For the most part, you can do what you want within the walls of your unit as long as your remodel doesn’t adversely affect the structural integrity of the building or the architectural appeal from the outside. You may be required to submit architectural plans before beginning work and of course, you’re expected to do work to code with licensed contractors.

As skilled real estate consultants with the SFhotlist Team and Keller Williams San Francisco, we’ll guide you through the HOA disclosures and help you discover what’s most important to you in a condo.

If you’re looking to buy or sell a home, we are here to help! Reach out to schedule a free consultation.

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