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Homeowners associations (HOAs) are popular because they help preserve property values. A good HOA can genuinely be an asset to your community.

An overly-restrictive or authoritarian HOA, however, can sometimes be a nightmare. Horror stories abound. That’s why it’s important to have a game plan if you intend to buy property in a development with an HOA.

Here are some tips on how to handle any HOA a little easier:

1. Get a copy of the rules

HOAs keep a list of covenants, conditions and restrictions (CCRs), which govern everything that residents and owners are allowed to do.

2. Pay your dues on time

A lot of HOAs are allowed to assess fines for late dues and you can even lose your home over them. Make sure that you keep a record of each payment — just in case your payment gets lost in the shuffle. Don’t quit paying your dues if you’re angry with the HOA either.

3. Ask for approval for changes

Given that even something as small as where the trash cans are placed can become an issue in some HOAs, you need to always make sure that you obtain approval for external changes. For example, if you want a new door, make sure that you paint it a color that’s approved by your HOA.

4. If you make a mistake, own it

Often, you can avoid larger conflicts simply by admitting that you made an error and apologizing. A cordial, face-to-face meeting can often create a sense of goodwill that will buy you a little leniency.

5. If you’re right, start out gently

Sometimes HOAs make mistakes. If you’re accused of a rule violation, ask for clarification in writing and present your case. Assume the error was an honest one and that the issue can be resolved without resorting to a fight.

Sometimes nothing will resolve a dispute with an HOA unless you take the issue to court. If that happens, a real estate attorney can help you decide how you wish to proceed.