HOA Documents: Declaration of Covenants and Bylaws
If you own property, keep a copy of these documents on your computer or in a file. From the powers and duties of the Board of Directors to the limitations on parking or landscaping, these documents will more than likely cover anything that could arise. Whether the rules are to be interpreted to your benefit is another story. Have these documents on hand and be ready to cite to them if you need something accomplished or have an issue.
The Board of Directors
It is important to remember that the "Board" is elected by the community, not some secret collusive council that's out to get you. These people have volunteered their time ostensibly to benefit the community, because they care about where they live. That's not to say some HOA Board members don't take their duties too seriously or overstep their powers, but for the most part the Board of Directors are just property owners like you.
Who Is In Charge Here?
Is your development still under construction? Not all the properties have sold yet? The Developer likely still has control of the HOA and power to enforce the rules and regulations. Until all the units or lots have closed sale, the Developer/Builder is in control. This is important to remember if you live in a new community. There may not be an elected Board of Directors or rules enforcement committee at this point, so be ready to call the Builder or Developer representative if you have an issue.
Rules, Rules, Rules
As stated above, the HOA documents will contain the rules for the community. Some of these rules can be changed if the community votes to do so, and the community will have different goals than the Developer did for the most part. It's also important to note that regular meetings, documentation of actions and even insurance are good ideas for preserving the HOA and community. The most fought-over rules in a community involve changes to the outside of a residence, landscaping, parking, rental of property and noise. Again, consult the documents and talk to the HOA Board of Directors before taking action or even spending money on an attorney. You always have the option of hiring an attorney to represent you if things can't be resolved internally, but remember that the other property owner or the HOA itself will likely have legal counsel as well.