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, and planned developments (homeowner associations)) have ebbed and flowed over the years, but the first CICs appeared at measurable scale in the late 1800s. New York City was one of the first major US cities to develop cooperatives (for the well-heeled). Read more history here and here. 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 (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 183,000 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 and challenges finding answers, lack of communication, lack of transparency, lack of cost-effective and time-sensitive statutory protections from poor governance and operational execution, service delivery failures and powerful industry-focused norms promulgated by the Community Associations Institute (CAI). Unlike many industries where user reviews, evaluation platforms and public ratings are plentiful, CIC property managers and third-party service providers often remain veiled in mystery. 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.

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 enforcement of violations is more likely, yet individual owners may have little recourse other than 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!

"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