Common interest communities (CICs) are hyperlocal, quasi-governmental constructs that bind a group of homeowners (members) to a set of shared requirements facilitated by specific state statutes and outlined in a set of governing documents (recorded Declaration / CC&Rs), Rules and Regulations (R&Rs), policies, procedures, etc.).

As of 2020, the United States was home to an estimated 355,000 CICs with over 74 million residents (22.3% of the population) and $103 billion in annual assessments.

CICs (cooperatives, multi-family residential condominium associations (COAs), and planned developments (homeowner associations (HOAs) and master planned communities)) have ballooned since getting their start in 18th century London. Read History and Structure of the Common Interest Community for an in-depth understanding or, for a more abbreviated history, check these secondary and tertiary references. On a slightly different note, you can also learn about public interest developments (PIDs).

New York City was one of the first major US cities to develop cooperatives (for the well-heeled). CICs exploded in prominence and quantity starting in the 1960's as they facilitated opportunities for more affordable home ownership (condominiums and co-ops), opportunities to enforce segregation via covenants (a practice that has since been denounced) and as municipalities discovered that they could reduce and/or eliminate their burden of caring for sidewalks, streets, lights, parks, plumbing and more by shifting those responsibilities to private homeowner associations (read Critical Assessment: The Financial Role of Community Associations).

CIC-related statutory governance began with a focus on development in the early 1960's, then shifted to regulating developers and has most recently evolved to provide more protections for homeowners through adoption of provisions contained in the Uniform Common Interest Ownership Act and Uniform Condominium Act (various versions adopted over decades across a handful of states).

Straddling both government and corporate realms, CICs face many of the same challenges experienced by those entities: drafting and revising legislation (written governance), contracting, human resources, financing, engaging constituents (homeowners) and more. Volunteer homeowner leaders are under immense pressure to plan and orchestrate a long-term balancing act maintaining property values and quality of life for residents while simultaneously honoring the boundaries of federal, state and local statutes, codes, and governing documents.

READ: Common Interest Communities: An Introduction by David L. Callies

Myriad frustrations and misunderstandings related to CIC living have fueled the growth of online "support groups" and Q&A forums such as the 190,000+ member r/f*ckHOA on Reddit. Homeowners and tenants find themselves mired in a canyon of discontent and uncertainly created by stark contrasts between owners' needs, lack of: education (for all), free and frictionless resources that deliver answers and examples, communication, transparency, accountability, and cost-effective and time-sensitive statutory protections from poor governance and operational execution. Service delivery failures are common amidst the powerful industry-focused norms promulgated by the Community Associations Institute (CAI) trade organization. Unlike many industries where user reviews, evaluation platforms and public ratings are plentiful, the CIC vendor industry (comprised of managers, insurers, reserve study providers, attorneys, and more) remains a closed system largely veiled in mystery (READ: Candid CAM interview).

Homeowners and CICs have been led to believe they should trust the organizations that want their revenue, because, essentially, there is no other choice. The United States lacks a nationwide nonprofit primarily focused on serving the best interests of CICs and their homeowners which means that CICs have no spokesperson and homeowners are their own ombudsperson in all but a few states with their own programs. READ: Why So Many Common Interest Communities Need Help

Susan F. French muses poignantly while comparing CICs to government entities and businesses in Making Common Interest Communities Work: The Next Step (ABA's The Urban Lawyer, Summer 2005, Vol. 37, No. 3, pp 359-369).

  • CICs have immense power to affect the quality of residents' lives and the value of their real property investments

  • CICs are more difficult to leave (i.e. moving away from or selling a home) than exiting a business and/or private investment

  • CICs have relatively invasive restrictions and the enforcement of violations is more likely

  • Homeowners have little recourse to unreasonable, even illegal circumstances aside from filing suit

The Urban Lawyer - Making Common Interest Communities Work: The Next Step

"Community associations occupy a space that lies somewhere between public governments and private businesses... As common interest communities have become more prevalent, the legal and social challenges they post have become more apparent."

This is "the rub." It's why you're on this website right now!

"By vesting management responsibilities in an association, the owners overcome most of the collective action problems presented by commonly owned resources."

IF ONLY this were true! Management has its place, but is NOT a panacea.

"In larger communities, management companies are often hired to relieve the Board of day-to-day operational responsibilities."

There's no "easy button." As we discuss in Decision-Making 101, the work product of your association's staff and third-party vendors (law firms, consultants, community association manager, etc.) is only as good as the direction, information (facts and context), conversations and questions you exchange.

Volunteer Involvement Survey - Q1 2022

"One problem that remains is that associations are run by an elected board of members (directors) who are not paid for their services, which leads to shirking and free-riding on the willingness of others to serve."

View the Volunteer Involvement Survey:

  • 49% of CICs have an estimated 1% to 5% of their owners volunteer on an annual basis

  • 53% of respondents perceive their personal volunteer time commitment as too much

    • 74% of respondents volunteer from 11 to over 41 hours every month (!)

    • 63% of respondents expect Directors to perform 10 or more hours of service every month

  • 70% characterize volunteer involvement as not enough

  • 48% say that a majority of volunteer work is performed by 1 or 2 Directors in the absence of material contributions by others