Functions of CA not without a price

MAILBAG

March 18, 2001

Dear Mr. Azrael,

I am one who would never want to live in some place that has a homeowners association. However, I live in Columbia and the Columbia Association poses the threat of behaving more like a homeowners association.

Besides size, what are the basic differences between a homeowners association and a planned community with an association funded by a lien on homeowners' deeds?

Patricia Storch Columbia

Dear Ms. Storch:

From a strictly legal point of view, the Columbia Association fits the definition of a homeowners association. It provides services to residents in a defined community, and charges fees or assessments to property owners within the community. If the assessments are not paid, the association has a right to collect by placing a lien on the owner's property.

The Columbia Association, however, has much broader functions than a typical homeowners association.

According to its Web site (www.columbiaassociation.com), the association owns and maintains more than 3,100 acres of open space, for the benefit of Columbia residents. The association builds and operates open-space facilities such as lakes, parks, tot lots, more than 80 swimming pools, tennis clubs, fitness centers, two golf clubs and other recreational facilities. Although many of the recreational facilities charge fees, Columbia residents usually pay lower fees than nonresidents.

The Columbia Association also provides community programs, such as before- and after-school care, summer day camps, a summer entertainment festival and other cultural events. The residents of each village association vote on a representative to serve on the 10-member Columbia Association board of directors. Directors receive no money for serving on the board.

The association's budget is funded by annual assessments paid by owners of all taxable residential, commercial and industrial properties and by user fees. For the current year the assessments rate is set at 73 cents per $100 of "assessed valuation," which is fixed at 50 percent of the "fair market value" and determined by the state. The owner of a home with a fair market value of $200,000 pays $730 to CA. This assessment is in addition to condominium assessments and county property taxes.

The success of Columbia as a planned community speaks well of the Columbia Association. But for some folks - and you might be one of them - the benefits afforded to residents of a planned community such as Columbia are not worth the additional cost. There is plenty of housing outside the boundaries of the association that is not subject to its assessments. Anyone who considers buying a home in Columbia should make sure they understand and are willing to accept the extra financial cost.

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