guest blog by Dave Russell (community association manager)
Last week Minnetonka residents of a condo complex won a massive settlement agreement in a federal lawsuit contending that a ban on playing in the grass illegally discriminated against families with children.The settlement agreement, announced last Friday, by U.S. Attorney Andrew Luger, means that the Greenbrier Village Homeowners’ Association Inc. and Gassen Company Inc. must establish a new nondiscrimination policy and pay a $10,000 penalty to the federal government and $100,000 to six families. We all know well who is going to foot the bill for this one. Don’t we?
Just days after the Minnetonka settlement another HOA in California was making headlines for smacking homeowners with $50 fines for basically the same thing. It appears that the Agave and Saguaro HOA in Chula Vista , California prohibits a number of kid-friendly activities in their development. This HOA prohibits their resident children from riding skateboards, bicycles, roller-skates or anything with ‘wheels’ on their driveways, common areas, sidewalks or streets. So what gives with these kooky rules?
Well the reporters down at ABC 10 News went to Prescott Management (the management company for Agave and Saguaro HOA) to ask that very question. The HOA manager claimed that some of those rules were for the ‘safety of children.’ Are these ‘safety concerns’ really legitimate?
While I completely understand the need for kids to be able to play in their communities, what happens if something goes terribly wrong? Hypothetically, let’s say this HOA changes their rules and a child gets mowed down by a car in the driveway. Whose fault is it? Well that’s the question the parents attorneys will be asking.
The argument can easily be made that the HOA should have adopted rules restricting children from playing in dangerous areas, such as driveways. One has to remember, attorneys are always searching for the deepest pockets when it comes to lawsuits and settlements. Unfortunately, those deep pockets always belong to the HOA and their insurance carriers.
HOAs and community managers seem to be in a real pickle here. If you restrict child-friendly activities, even if they may be dangerous, the HOA could be sued for a fair housing violation. If you don’t have safety rules in place, and a child gets hurt, the HOA still gets sued if something goes ‘terribly wrong.’ When it’s all said and done, and dust settles from the lawsuits, it’s the homeowners who will foot the bill once again. Well, don’t they always?
So what’s the solution to this seemingly new legal issue of Children vs. HOA’s? A large part of this problem was actually created by the developers themselves, who poorly designed these communities, and without children in mind. Very rarely do you see a developer put in a kid-friendly area where kids can just be kids. And for some reason if the developer does build a kid-friendly area, it’s always across a busy road like the development in the Minnesota case. It’s all about jamming in as many units into one confined space as possible for profit.
There’s no doubt we’ll be seeing a magnitude of new lawsuits from homeowners and federal agencies like Fair Housing. These lawsuits are going to cost homeowners billions of dollars and make HOA insurance premiums skyrocket! In my opinion, the best solution to this newly found problem is to stop building these damn liabilities!
If you ever needed another reason not to buy into an HOA……make sure that you add this one to the top of your list!