A “Homeowners’ Association” or HOA is a group of property owners who are all bound to and members of an organization. This organization, a legal entity (like an LLC or corporation) enforces the restrictions set by covenants, conditions and restrictions on title. It also has the right to impose assessments against the properties (essentially, a private tax) to fund its existence and operations.
If there is an HOA for a property you may be buying, then you must exercise due diligence and review those CC&Rs. The easiest way to do so is by reviewing the title report, which should have a link to the document. You may find that you have a real problem with some of the restrictions imposed. For example, in the 1960’s it was practically a crime to air-dry your laundry (so primitive!) and CC&Rs routinely prohibited it.
“But times have changed, right? I mean, it’s my property and if I want to do the socially responsible thing….
Nope. Sadly, the world doesn’t work that way. The CC&Rs are presumed to be enforceable, whether by the Homeowners Association or even another owner. So an owner may be able to sue you for the laundry line, get a court order requiring you to take it down, and maybe get his attorney fees paid by you at the end (depending on the specific CC&Rs). However, if the restriction has not been enforced for some time against other owners, then and only then has the restriction lapsed and is no longer binding and enforceable.
If you’re buying a house, make sure you’ve got a good real estate agent who understands these issues.