guest blog by Deborah Goonan (Independent American Communities)
How many times have we heard homeowners, Community Association Managers and attorneys lament about apathy in HOAs? A quick Google search on “HOA Apathy” results in dozens of articles on the subject. Few attend annual meetings, so there’s never a quorum. No one wants to serve on the Association’s board. Does anyone actually read emails, newsletters, or the website?
Well, a group of 9 homeowners in Shadowmoss Plantation HOA (near Charleston, SC) stepped up to the plate. They were unhappy with the long-time incumbent 7-member board, especially after their HOA lost a great deal of money in a widespread alleged embezzlement scheme by Marshland Communities management company. (If you missed it, here’s the blog on Karen Colie of Marshland, and the investigation underway, involving up to 50 different Association Governed Communities in South Carolina:
The golf community has been divided over the board’s recent purchase of some land, their choice of a new management company, and what homeowners believe is a heavy-handed approach to enforcing restrictive covenants and collecting assessments. Concerned homeowners even created a website dubbed “Shadowmess” outlining their concerns and the goals of the newly elected board.
A few weeks ago, Shadowmoss Plantation homeowners spoke to their local media about their discontent over the policies of their HOA board, and on October 12th, they held a special meeting to oust their board and elect their new board of 9 members.
Of course, as is common in these situations, the incumbent HOA board members refuse to step down without a fight. The price for not being apathetic is a contentious, expensive lawsuit, guaranteed to cause even more division in Shadowmoss Plantation.
Is it any wonder why most homeowners would rather not go out of their way to attend meetings, ask questions, or run for election on the board?
So, you see, homeowners can’t win. If they don’t pay attention to how the board and manager are handling their money, it’s likely to be squandered or even stolen. If homeowners do start attending board meetings and asking to see financial records, they are often considered adversarial pariahs or malcontents.
If homeowners meekly stand by as the HOA board abuses its authority, it’s only a matter of time until they bear the brunt of that abuse. If homeowners do decide to oust the current HOA leadership, they face a complicated, difficult battle to replace the board and start anew.
Who needs this kind of aggravation?
And take note that, quite often, a homeowner can live for years in an HOA without issue, but then, seemingly all of a sudden, all hell breaks loose. The triggers are many: the election of one new board member with control issues, a fire or natural disaster that destroys several units, economic recession with rampant assessment delinquencies and mortgage defaults, the discovery of hidden construction defects, or, as in the case of Shadowmoss Plantation, HOA theft and embezzlement.
No matter what starts the conflict, it almost always costs homeowners a lot of money, wasted time, and undue stress.
A protracted legal dispute with the HOA might even result in the loss of one’s home, or the need to move out to get away from conflict.
Rarely does change come easily. Rarely is there a peaceful transition of power.
Ironically, our country is having a national conversation about the fact that, in a peaceful Democratic Republic, citizens and their leaders have confidence in a fair election process, and accept the outcome.
Clearly, Association-Governed Communities are not Democratic Republics. Most HOAs are private non-profit corporations, where the outcome of a board election is often bitterly disputed.
One has to wonder: have Americans truly accepted HOAs as the new normal for local governance? I say, as evidenced by the level of conflict in HOAs, no, they have not.
Given that Association-Governed Housing has been thrust upon consumers for nearly 5 decades – like it or not – has exposure to corporate “elections” and unaccountable leadership influenced the national political climate in the U.S.?
Definitely something to think about.