H2O: The New Moneymaker In The HOA

guest blog by Nila Ridings

I just read where some HOAs that provide for water in the dues are now going to start charging homeowners by the number of people living in the unit.

This topic is being discussed in a CAI attorney’s newsletter that I subscribe to. Sometimes I find the information they share of interest and other times it makes me want to barf my Sunday breakfast.

I live in an HOA where our water is factored into our monthly dues. If they tried to bill us for usage based on the number of people living in each unit that would be a joke to say the least. Why? Because we’ve had people with hair salons in their basements, in-home childcare, carpet cleaning companies, dog groomers, and probably a laundry service or two operating out of the view range of their binoculars. We had one former homeowner who managed to get the HOA to install a completely new lawn all around her unit which she watered multiple hours per day. So much so her attached neighbor declared all the watering was destroying the soil under their shared driveway and causing it to have problems. When the hose mysteriously ended up with a slash the HOA ran right out and bought a replacement so the watering could continue.

On the other hand in the decade I’ve lived in this hellhole, I have worked out of state a total of about 12 months. When I leave for more than 24 hours, I always shut the water off and drain the pipes. (It’s a ritual taught to me by my dad to prevent me from coming home to a busted washing machine, dishwasher, or icemaker hose that could do massive damage if left to flow water for days.) By these new water billing rules, I would then be entitled to a refund for having no water or sewer usage during my absence, correct? No way would my HOA ever refund a nickel to somebody they despised, even if not a drop of water was used in a year!

And then there is the other situation where nobody is living in a unit: FORECLOSURE. I’m handling the foreclosure for a neighbor who finally had enough and decided after sixteen years to just walk away. The bank sent a company to completely winterize the pipes and shut off the water. Not a drop of water has been used for months.

At one time my attached neighbor had family circumstances that left her with fifteen additional family members living with her. They used a lot of water, probably more than what she paid in monthly dues. They were there for a few years and were great neighbors. We are still friends.

I’ve had some neighbors tell me about pipes breaking in attached units and they came home to a flood. Only to be unable to locate the neighbor or bank that owned the unit where the pipe broke. One guy walked to the back of the units and could see water clear up to the top of the patio door with everything floating inside. He said it looked like a gigantic fish bowl. He was able to reach the owner who was out of town. When he told him what was happening the guy said, “Thanks for calling, I’m never coming back!” And he didn’t! He let the bank foreclose on the moldy stinking mess.

My point of presenting all these examples is that one person can use more water than another for varying reasons. So how is the HOA going to collect the exact usage from the homeowners? They can’t. It’s impossible. The only way for each unit to pay for the amount of water and sewer they use is to have their own meter. And THAT is where the cheaper way to build these crappy places has come home to roost. It was a way to save a few bucks on the construction costs only to create a nightmare down the line for the homeowners and the HOA.

I’m taking a wild calculated guess at how this is going to come out. The board or property manager will charge an outrageous water usage amount to the members they do not like. If the unit owner doesn’t pay, they will lien and foreclose on the unit. Or figure out some way to shut off the water just to that owner.

And the battles rage on in the HOAs of America!

Oh yes, and my other reason for sharing…it is just one more reason to never buy a condo or a townhouse!

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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.

5 thoughts on “H2O: The New Moneymaker In The HOA

  1. Deborah Goonan

    One fairly common problem we see in FL — the Association fails to collect enough money in assessments (or spends the money on other things) and then doesn’t pay the water utilty bill. This might go on for months or years, until the Municipal Water Utility posts notice to residents that the water will be shut off entirely for non-payment!

    Of course, a utility lien also makes it diffcult to sell these condo units, too.

    If each unit were speparately metered, that would prevent and solve a myriad of problems. But in more than one HOA online discussion Groups, I was surprised at the number of Association managers and Board members that were opposed to what is called “sub-metereing.” They cite the up-front cost as the main reason. Unbelievable.

    The bigger question is: why are developers still allowed to build multifamily units without seprate utility suppies and meters?

  2. Nila Ridings

    This is another one of those issues with HOA construction that is contemplated in detail BEFORE the completion of construction. It’s all about build it CHEAP as possible. Most apartment buildings are on one meter and the landlords provide the water in the price of rent. I would assume that concept carried over into the construction of condos and townhomes because nobody stood up and explained the problems that lie ahead.

    There is another factor that I failed to mention: Faucets and toilets that leak. In an apartment those can easily be determined during inspections or when a tenant moves out and the unit is being checked out for a new renter. In the HOA world, an owner could have toilets that leak for twenty years and nothing would ever be done about it. And at the price of hiring a plumber you can bet there are plenty of water leaks in HOA units. The exception would be the rental units because the landlords don’t want to chance having a flood and incur damage.

    Just more things to consider when thinking of buying in an HOA!

    1. Deborah Goonan

      Actually, every place I have ever rented had its own water meter, and I paid the bill. I prefer it that way. But there are plenty of places that still don’t have this set up. Condo conversions from hotels, motels, and older apartment buildings usually do not have separate meters for each unit. The newer apartment buidlings and condos tend to have separate plumbing and meters here in FL. I guess it depends on where you live, and what’s common construction practice in your area.

  3. Kim

    I Live in an single family HOA community that is gated, the association sold the water plant they owned to a private corporation/company named Aqua Illinois – They have a book online called Aqua Illinois a water profiteer, I sent the Illinois commerce commission this book to all 5 members when the water was going to be raised yet again and it made absolutely no difference. Although my HOA is not a condo each of the 1800 homes in our community has gotten screwed by not only the association but this private water company which is now in many of the 50 states. We pay anywhere from $114 to $118 dollars a month and this includes sewer charges of approx. $80. Is the association getting kick backs? The problem is no matter what kind of control the HOA has the homeowners always end up losing. HOAs need to be abolished. Homeowners should not have to endure the abuse by these corporations and it truly does come in many forms. I hear a lot of talk about condos but HOA’s are also Single family homes with many of the same issues.

  4. Deborah Goonan

    Kim, you are exactly right. Some folks think that HOA planned communities with single family homes don’t face many problems, when compared to condominiums. That’s simply untrue. The nature of the problems is somewhat different, but just as pervasive.

    I have some friends who live in a gated HOA community. The developer owned the water utility for over a decade. During that time, the system was neglected, maintenance was deferred, and it fell into a state of disrepair. The state of FL DEP issued repeated violation notices on the utility owner. Homeowners started receiving letters in the mail regarding cancer-causing contaminants in their drinking water. The water became discolored, but it wasn’t the color that was harmful – it was the presence of disinfectant by-products. These are chemicals that cannot be filtered out by simple, inexpensive carbon filters. A more expensive filtration system, such as reverse osmosis, is necessary.
    The waste water system, according to an engineer report ordered by the County (prior to their purchase of the utility from the Developer), was out of compliance with DEP standards for four years. The waste water had to be transported from the plant to another location for further processing!
    The local County finally purchased the water utility from the Developer, in a transaction that plenty of homeowners consider a sweetheart deal. The developer received millions of dollars for a physical plant that needs to be completely rebuilt — and new wells need to be drilled. Water rates more than doubled within a year, and are still increasing. The water is still yellow and rusty. Sporadic water quality violations persist, even as the system is slowly being rebuilt. Most owners have opted to purchase expensive whole-house water filtration systems, even though they are now paying anywhere from $125 – $200 per month to the water utility, depending on the number of residents and size of the home.
    Of course, this story has been reported in local newspapers and online news journals. It serves as a deterrent to home buyers, or results in a lower price so that the buyer can install a water filtration system. It could take several more years to bring the water system up to par, and there’s no telling what the total cost will be for homeowners.


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