Tag Archives: HOA Hell

Another Case of HOA Abuse?

Whenever the news media start trolling for stories about HOA abuse, they seem to be buried with them. This was one of many uncovered by reporter J. David McSwane, of Denver’s Westword Magazine.

He reports that Angela Quinn, a resident in an HOA in Western Washington, was told she could not have an air conditioner in her rental home. She says her neighbor had an A/C unit, and since she was in her third trimester of pregnancy, she figured she could install one in a back window which was not visible from the street.

Angela acknowledges that she has tangled with her HOA in the past, once when she complained about the poor drainage in a mosquito infested pond across the street, once over the state of her lawn, and another time when trash cans weren’t properly stored.

So, Angela shouldn’t have been surprised when she got a letter from her HOA with a picture of her non-conforming A/C unit taken from the back of her house.

Homeowners Associations were created to maintain the appearance of neighborhoods. But it’s a short step from there to micro-managing of affairs of certain homeowners.

Angela says she has rented her home for the past four years, which may actually be her biggest problem. HOAs just don’t like renters. Across the country there are many stories about HOA managers who seem to concentrate their energies on harrassing residents of rental properties, apparently to encourage them to find homes elsewhere.

Ward Lucas
Author of
Neighbors At War: The Creepy Case Against Your Homeowners Association

The Bad Side of HOA’s

Despite a few changes in law in such states as Texas and Arizona, Homeowners Associations are developing an increasingly bad reputation because of the ongoing spate of news stories about homeowners abused by the HOA system. Homeowners wrongly believe that HOAs are created to maintain property values and help homeowners get along with each other. Nothing could be further from the truth.

In city after city, stories are published about homeowners losing their homes or being hit with massive fines for petty violations such as being a few dollars late on monthly dues, or leaving the trash can out an hour after the prescribed deadline. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.  Sometimes a Homeowners Association levies a fine just because a member of the neighborhood does a good deed. That’s what happened to Jim Lane, a resident of the Gilead Ridge Homeowners Association in North Carolina.

Lane says he always enjoyed helping fellow neigbors beautify the neighborhood. He says he noticed the neighborhood park had become untidy and unsightly, so he cleaned it up and planted some flowers there. He should have gotten a commendation from the HOA, right?

No, Lane was slapped with a fine for planting some “unauthorized flowers!’

When he refused to pay, he was hit with a lawsuit, a lien on his house and threats of foreclosure.

Lane’s sad case is not unique either. Cases similar to his are popping up in thousands of Homeowners Associations across the country. The stories are causing many people to have second thoughts about moving into an HOA. Even a Realtor’s claim that an HOA might be “one of the good gones” has to be viewed with suspicion. All it takes is a single election of a “problem board member” to completely change the flavor of a neighborhood, making property values decline instead of remain stable.

Ward Lucas
Author of
Neighbors At War: The Creepy Case Against Your Homeowners Association

Are HOAs Good Or Bad For Homeowners?

Government? Or not government?

Most new communities these days are governed by homeowners associations or property owners associations. These are made up of homeowners who have collectively signed restrictive covenants as a condition of home ownership. Those covenants require certain behavior on the part of each member. Monthly or annual dues are collected to maintain common areas or provide for services such as trash collection or cable tv delivery. Each HOA or POA calls for the election of board members and officers who are given the power to take actions to make sure rules and covenants are followed. The board also has the ability to assess fines or other penalties, up to and including the confiscation of an entire property without reimbursement. For all intents and purposes, Homeowners Associations are mini-governments or quasi-governments which exist outside of most prevailing law. The magic that lets this happen is that the typical HOA is a corporation, a non-profit PRIVATE corporation. In other words, it’s equivalent to a private members-only country club. Homeowners are not considered to be homeowners or taxpayers or citizens, but rather MEMBERS. As willing MEMBERS they have agreed to be governed by the elected board as it administers the restrictive covenants that were WILLINGLY signed by all members.

But just like private non-profit corporations, rules are subject to interpretation. Rules can be changed. And many HOA members in many states have made amazing discoveries about the rights they thought they once had. For example:

Restrictions in selling or renting the house

You may think you’re that as the owner of your home you can sell it whenever you wish. Well, you may discover that your neighbors are partners in your home ownership and they will have a say in who you select as the buyer. In some communities, you may only sell it to a family consisting of two natural married adults. Blatant code for no gays, lesbians or singles.

You may only sell it to people over a certain age, as in age-restricted retirement communities.

You may not be able to sell it to a family with grandchildren (no overnight stays lasting longer than two consecutive nights)

You may also be stunned to discover restrictive covenants outlawing blacks, orientals, jews and other minorities. Federal law prohibits such discrimination, but the ongoing existence of such covenants leaves a powerful and not-too-subtle message. (I’ll have a whole lot more on this subject in my upcoming book Neighbors At War: The Creepy Case Against Your Homeowners Association.

Landscaping Restrictions

Every person is an individual with different tastes, desires, likes and dislikes. Life might be easier if you could only buy one color of carpet, one style of lampshade or one kind of flower. But we ARE our differences. Human nature rebels against regimentalism. Still, your neighbors are your partners and they want you to abide by certain rules. Properly grown grass, no brown spots, no weeds, no grass longer than 1 and 1/2 inches tall. No pansies, no more than a prescribed number of rose bushes, one neatly trimmed tree planted only on the left side of the sidewalk. All landscaping plans submitted to the architectural control committee. Believe it or not, there are thousands of lawsuits against homeowners who’ve violated one of the above restrictions (Again, lots more in Neighbors At War: the Creepy Case Against Your Homeowners Association)

No parking on the street

This one leads to more arguments, lawsuits and fisticuffs than almost any other. Land developers were given the right to jam more dwelling units into smaller spaces in exchange for creating severe parking restrictions. So, that overnight guest of yours? Forbidden! The birthday party for your youngster? Give it up, unless guests park in some nearby supermarket lot. But even worse? Dictatorial board members hire towing companies to snatch cars the second a delivery is being made to your house, or the moment an innocent guest drops by to say “hi.” Ambitious towing companies have been known to slip an occasional ‘C note’ to the first board member who calls them. Even worse, some communities hire two truck drivers to constantly patrol the streets snatching cars. It can cost a couple hundred bucks to get your car back.

No parking on your own driveway

Seriously! Some Homeowners Associations prohibit the accumulation of junk in your garage. There’s a good reason for that. They don’t want any passenger car visible from the street, so all cars must be parked in garages at all times.

No over-sized vehicles in the neighborhood

This sounds like a reasonable restriction to keep semi-trucks out of narrow neighborhood streets. But this is actually a way of keep out riff-raff. There’s a case in Texas where the local millionaires could have Hummers and Cadillac Escalades. But the owner of a brand new Ford 150 was fined and sued because it was a pickup truck. It cost him 150,000 bucks to fight the case.

No home-based business

This is very common. Obviously, the intent is to keep out homeowners who have a stream of customers coming to visit. But this rule is often used arbitrarily to get rid of ‘undesirables’. Any kind of home-based business can be deemed illegal, even one owned by a writer who rants against Homeowners Associations…

No Green Energy

No kidding! No laundry lines (lots of fines and lawsuits on record). No solar panels (lots of fines and lawsuits on record) No xeriscaping (lots of fines and lawsuits)

In summary, if you’re going to live in an HOA plan for trouble. Even though you may like the kinds of rules you’ll have to follow, set aside a sum of money each month in a permanent savings account. Regular saving is always a wise idea, but especially in the HOA environment. Sooner or later you may need to use that money for fines or legal fees.

Ward Lucas
Neighbors At War: The Creepy Case Against Your Homeowners Association

Craziest Homeowners Association Laws

Get to know your neighbors

That used to be such wise advice handed out by law enforcement organizations. But times have changed, times have changed. These days it’s far more important to your safety and your financial health to get to know your neighborhood rules. (I continue to collect examples of such rules, so please feel free to contact me with new ones!)

The rules

Some New York co-ops don’t want just any itinerant artist in the building, only art projects officially approved by the board.

In some HOAs….no high heels. (understandable)

In an HOA in Iowa…no visits by a mother-in-law! (Actually, that’s a marvelous excuse. One could get to like that rule)

No smoking in your own home or any place on your property. (Increasingly common, and backed up by court after court)

No outdoor laundry drying. (Very common. Lady in ‘enviro-friendly’ Oregon fined a thousand bucks.)

No cross or other Christian symbol near or on your from door or visible from the street. (gotta erase any remnant of Jesus)

No Mezuza or any other Jewish symbol visible from the street. (court cases up the wazoo)

Absolute restriction on the number of rose bushes (famous case which cost one poor sucker his house)

No lemonade stands (remember the rule against home-based businesses? Besides, who wants snotty nosed kids visible from the street?)

Kids may not play outside. (Unbelievable, but this is a current case involving some Florida Homeowners Associations!)

Please, please, I’m a glutton for punishment. If you’re all steamed up about some stupid HOA rule, please drop me a line. I’ve heard most of them, but am always looking for more. You’ll see a ton of them in my upcoming book, Neighbors At War: the Creepy Case Against Your Homeowners Association, but I need volunteers in my anti-HOA army!

Talk to me at wardlucas@gmail.com

Ward Lucas

Neighbors At War: The Creepy Case Against Your Homeowners Association