A Completely Imaginary Conversation

Imagine for a moment that your company has transferred you to California’s Central Valley. Lots of warm days are in your future, you get a chance to dry out from all the rain and snow in your old home town.

Your Realtor has been driving you around several neighborhoods in Angels Camp: Saddle Creek Resort, Copper Cove and the little community of Copperopolis. Suddenly you see it! The house of your dreams! The yard is nicely kept, the rooms are large, the last owner has really taken good care of the place. “What’s the neighborhood like?” you ask the Realtor.

“Oh, it’s pretty good,” she says. “The HOA likes to keep things in order. They make sure everyone knows the rules and keeps the neighborhood neat. There’ve only been a couple problems here.”

“Problems? What kinds of problems?”

“Ah,” she says. “A few years ago, one couple didn’t pay their $120 annual dues. The HOA popped them with a lien and then sold their house at auction. It cost the couple $70,000 to get it back. The couple won’t do that again.”

“Whew! What else?”

“Hmmm,” says the Realtor. “Oh yeah. There was this disabled guy who couldn’t get into his house. He got permission from the county to build a wheelchair ramp. But he didn’t ask the HOA first, so they popped him with a fine of $15,000.”

“Wow!” you say. “That seems a little harsh.”

“No, not at all. It keeps folks in line. Keeps up property values.”

“Anything more?” you ask.

“No,” says the Realtor. “Oh yeah, almost forgot. There was one thing that happened here a few months ago. The office manager of the Copper Cove HOA, the same one you’re in right now, stole about $25,000 from the neighborhood treasury. She embezzled 18,000 bucks and used the HOA credit cards to buy all her gas and groceries.”

“Who has to make all that money up?” you say as you raise your eyebrows.

“Well, after she gets out of jail, she might have to do some restitution. In the meantime, a special assessment from all the homeowners will be used to rebuild the treasury.”

You take a long last look at that nice house, the neatly trimmed neighborhood and the blue skies.

“I think I’m going to look elsewhere,” you tell the stunned Realtor. “I lived in an HOA once. Nah, don’t think I want to do that again. See ya!”


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Ward Lucas is a longtime investigative journalist and television news anchor. He has won more than 70 national and regional awards for Excellence in Journalism, Creative Writing and community involvement. His new book, "Neighbors At War: the Creepy Case Against Your Homeowners Association," is now available for purchase. In it, he discusses the American homeowners association movement, from its racist origins, to its transformation into a lucrative money machine for the nation's legal industry. From scams to outright violence to foreclosures and neighborhood collapses across the country, the reader will find this book enormously compelling and a necessary read for every homeowner. Knowledge is self-defense. No homeowner contemplating life in an HOA should neglect reading this book. No HOA board officer should overlook this examination of the pitfalls in HOA management. And no lawyer representing either side in an HOA dispute should gloss over what homeowners are saying or believing about the lawsuit industry.

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