Homeowners' associations were supposedly created by Real Estate God to fundraise for and oversee neighborhood maintenance, and to help developers to efficiently manage and market their properties. But it often seems that their true purpose in life is to drive homeowners insane.
Governed by boards of directors—homeowners ostensibly chosen by their peers to represent the interests of their communities—HOAs are organizations that have become somewhat infamous for imposing arbitrary fines and liens on unpopular or "rogue" homeowners, making shit up as they go along, treating people unfairly, enforcing strict adherence to their rules, collecting fees, and acting irrationally or illegally. The people who sit on their boards are often petty, vindictive, utterly incompetent, and/or control-freakish. Regardless, anyone who wants to move into a housing development ruled by an HOA has to agree to follow the HOA's rules—which can prove troublesome for anyone who's even slightly individualistic, or simply laissez-faire about the color of their neighbors' driveways.
Sure, you can decide against moving into a HOA-governed development—except that in many parts of the country, doing so has become increasingly difficult. More than 80 percent of newly built homes belong to association communities, reports the Associated Press; 24.4 million homes, or 20 percent of all homes in America, are represented by HOAs, with concentrations higher in some states. You can try to look for an HOA whose culture, rules, and members appeal to you—but then again, if just one or two board members quit or are replaced, your HOA's culture and rules might become completely different/personally unbearable to you.
And if you somehow end up on the board's bad side by, say, planting an unauthorized flower, or flying your flag on the wrong type of pole, it's likely that your HOA will fine you, lien you, and threaten you with foreclosure—just like Jim Lane's HOA did.
Lane's a North Carolina man who's caught up in a dispute with his HOA because he planted some pansies in a community common area. He "felt the flowers would spruce up the park, which he viewed as unsightly and unkempt," reports the Huntersville Herald. For committing his act of botanical goodwill, the Gilead Ridge Homeowners Association fined him. Then, when he refused to pay, the HOA placed a lien on his house. In the interest of avoiding foreclosure, Lane paid the fine—but he's now suing the HOA for $800,000 for abuse of process and other things. He's also founded a statewide coalition to help other homeowners in his state fight back against their HOAs.
Don't think Lane's HOA "couldn't possibly" take his house just because he didn't pay their fines, because they totally could: "Before now, associations rarely, if ever, foreclosed on homeowners," reports AP. "But today, encouraged by a new industry of lawyers and consultants, boards are increasingly foreclosing on people 60 days past due on association fees."
Evan McKenzie, a University of Illinois-Chicago political science professor and author of the book Beyond Privatopia: Rethinking Residential Private Government, recently explained to me that a complicating aspect of HOA disputes is that they often become personalized, "so you can't even resolve them." When board members interpret the rules to suit their own ends, homeowners often must look to the courts to enforce basic standards of accountability—and that can get expensive. "There's no training or actual requirements" for board positions, McKenzie adds, which means that the people in charge often don't understand the most basic requirements of the law. Many homeowners don't, either.
Pagosa Springs, Colorado
In 2006, the Loma Linda Homeowners Association threatened to fine a homeowner $25 per day because she hung a "divisive" Christmas wreath shaped like a peace sign on her home. Some Loma Linda residents apparently believed the wreath was "a protest of the Iraq war" or "a symbol of Satan." The Internet heard about this situation and called for a protest against the HOA, prompting the HOA to back off and drop the fines. [ABC News]
San Antonio, TX
Christa Colquhoun, a resident of the Stone Oak development, built a white picket fence (the stuff of homeowner dreams!) on her property to prevent her five-year-old autistic son from hurting himself by running out of the yard and into the street. She and her husband filed an application with her HOA to built the gate, and explained that its purpose was to address her son's special needs. For 60 days—twice as long as was necessary under HOA rules—she waited for the HOA to respond; when they didn't, she proceeded with the fence, just as the rules ostensibly permitted. And then?
Soon afterward, Christa says her neighbor began harassing her, making fun of her child and telling her the gate was ugly and to take it down. Christa says the neighbor then filed a complaint with the HOA. Christa tells KENS 5 that's when she began receiving letters from the HOA asking her to tear down the gate and pay a fine, an amount that she says adds up to $600 by now. "They wanted the gate down because it was ugly. It was an eyesore and it didn't match with the rest of the community," Christa said. She claims to have contacted HOA members on several occasions, but no one has responded. Some of them live down the street from her, she said. "They said it would be a possibility to foreclose on the home if I don't pay the fines and get the gate removed."
How much you wanna bet that the tot-mocking moron goes to church every Sunday? [KEN 5]
A.J. Vizzi spent almost $200,000 in legal fees to fight his HOA, the hilariously named Eagle Masters Association, after it sued him for parking his pick-up truck in his own driveway. In the first go-round at court, Vizzi won—but the HOA, being dicks, appealed. Vizzi prevailed again, however, and the judge awarded him $187,000 to pay his lawyers. After reading about this case, I think there should be a Constitutional amendment that explicitly protects people's right to park in their own driveways. [ My Fox Tampa Bay]
Do Texas HOAs hate servicemen? In June 2010, Captain Michael Clauer lost his home when his HOA, the Heritage Lakes Homeowners' Association, foreclosed on and sold his house while he was en route to Iraq—all because he was $800 behind in his HOA dues payments. People all over the world found out about Clauer's predicament, and many of them became very angry. Perhaps because of all the attention, or because of federal laws intended to protect servicemembers from money problems that arise while they're serving, the HOA agreed to a settlement, and Clauer got his house back. Then he moved away. [KHOU]
Bossier City, LA
Like their neighbors to the west, Louisiana HOAs also seem to hate servicemen! Bossier City homeowners Timothy and Jodi Burr are being sued by their HOA because they've refused to remove from their yard a three-by-six-foot sign that honors their son, a Marine who's serving in Afghanistan. The Gardens of Southgate Association says the sign violates their covenants. However, other signs in the neighborhood that promote professions, schools, motorcycle rides, and other things somehow don't violate the covenants. The HOA doesn't seem to be very interested in telling anybody how this is so. [Fox News]
Hanging up your laundry on a clothesline is what poor people do, and therefore vulgar, said the HOA of townhouse dweller Susana Tregobov. The HOA ordered her to stop hanging her clothes out to dry because doing so "makes our community look like Dundalk," a Baltimore neighborhood full of Poors. [Journal-Constitution]
In 2009, a disabled Vietnam vet named Frank Larison was told by the Woodlands II on the Creek HOA that he either had to remove the Marines stickers from his car or they would send out a truck to tow it away. The HOA regarded the stickers as a form of "decal advertising" that violated their rules. Larison could avoid being towed, they said, as long as he covered up the stickers with magnetic panels "at all times when [his] vehicle is parked on the Property ... no matter for how long." At least you can't accuse them of being unwilling to compromise. [Texas Cable News, photo via abvlaw.com]
Jimmy and Judie Stottler brought their six-year-old granddaughter to live with them after the girl's mother, who had drug abuse issues, lost custody. The Stottlers' HOA found out about this and tried to evict the child from their ages 55-and-up community. For whatever reason the HOA's eviction attempt made the Stottlers unenthusiastic about sticking around, so they put up their home for sale. Then the market crashed, which meant that they couldn't sell their house despite dropping the price numerous times. Despite their efforts to sell their home in the worst housing market in decades, they were sued by their HOA anyhow.
After being told by their HOA that they all had to replace their mailboxes with the same $155 model, the 3,800 homeowners of the Brandermill community painted their mailboxes yellow in protest. In response to this bold act of suburban solidarity, the HOA board president said the homeowners would receive violation notices. Non-compliant homes were subject to $10-a-day fines. Not sure what the big deal is, given that all the yellow mailboxes conformed. [NBC 12, WTVR]
Ted Faraz caught grief from his HOA for installing $15,000 solar panels on his roof as a way to lower his electricity bills and protect the environment. The Ranch Valley HOA declared Faraz's panels to be "an eyesore," even though you couldn't actually see them from any place except his neighbor's front lawn, and his neighbor didn't care. The HOA threatened to fine Faraz $50 every damned day until he took the panels down, and also said they'd foreclose on his house. [YouTube]
In 2008, Joe Woodward tried to rebuild his home after it was destroyed by an airplane that fell from the sky and crashed into it, killing his wife and infant son. Woodward planned out his new home to be on the same property as the original home, but made a few changes; if the new house were exactly the same as the old house, it would constantly remind him of his loved ones.
Woodward's HOA told him that unless he changed the home's shingles, size, and elevation to conform to their rules—i.e., build the house to be just like it had been before the crash—then they would sue him. He tried to tell the HOA about his concerns but couldn't get anywhere with those people. [WESH]
Bayonet Point, FL
66-year-old Joseph Prudente had to do some time in the local jail because he couldn't afford to comply with a court order, obtained by his HOA, that required him to sod his lawn. "It's a sad situation," Beacon Woods Civic Association board president Bob Ryan told the St. Petersburg Times about Prudente's fate. "But in the end, I have to say he brought it upon himself."
A pensioner with a limited income, Prudente had to stay in jail until the sod job was completed. "He's in prison for God knows how long because we can't afford to sod the lawn," his daughter, Jennifer Lehr, told the Times when her father entered jail. Luckily, some outraged people in his community—including a county commissioner—fixed up Prudente's yard, thereby lawn-caring him to freedom. [St. Petersburg Times]
Just knowing that a homeowner has solar panels on his rooftop gives anti-panel HOAs tremors and night sweats. It doesn't matter if they can't see the things—the presence of a single, unauthorized panel can throw off the feng shui of an entire community. Or not? Not, says James Greeman, a Minnesota man who wanted to stick some panels on the roof of his house. But his HOA told him no, because the panels would "disturb the neighborhood's appearance" and therefore ruin lives. [YouTube]
In May 2010, a Texas homeowner was told by his HOA that he couldn't run an Internet business selling rifles and other guns from his home. In Texas! The man vowed to fight the HOA for violating his civil rights. [We Are Austin]
Sometimes HOAs just pop up out of nowhere, poisonous mushroom-like, and commence sending complainy letters to unsuspecting homeowners. Millicent Cole thought she moved into a HOA-free development, but then one day received a note from a party claiming to be her HOA, saying she need to cut her grass and also start paying them dues. "Cole [was] being told that her builder formed the new HOA for this whole area, but it's tough to tell if it legally elected a true board of directors," reported the TV station KPRC, which "couldn't find any neighbors who had ever heard of" the HOA. [KPRC]
In March 2011 the HOA that lords over the Persimmon Place subdivision sought to ban kids from playing outside. An HOA board member explained that playing outside was "dangerous" for kids; staying inside watching television, getting no exercise, and learning no social skills is much safer. The HOA was supposed to vote on their anti-fun rule on April 27, but postponed making a decision; meanwhile, parents threatened to sue them. Unpredictably, this isn't the first time an HOA has tried to abolish playing. [Click Orlando]
Las Vegas, NV
In February 2011, a group of 50 Nevada homeowners rallied in Las Vegas to protest HOAs run amok. One protest participant had been fined more than $3,000 because she changed the color of her driveway; another had faced weekly $100 fines over a fence that her HOA's architectural committee had actually approved. [Review-Journal]
After receiving permission from the Chapel Ridge HOA's architectural committee, Crystal Adu installed $18,000 worth of vinyl/aluminum trim on her house. Six months later, the HOA decided to prohibit such trim and told Adu she and her husband could no longer use the swimming pool or other amenities in the development. The HOA tried to claim that Adu's trim was installed incorrectly, but it wasn't! They also fined Adu and threatened liens against her house. After The News reported on Adu's situation, the HOA magically decided that the trim wasn't a problem anymore, and un-banned the Adus from using the amenities. [WRAL]
After her husband died, Dawn Blake installed $11,000 synthetic grass on her property because she didn't feel like spending hours and hours riding around in circles on some mower thing. Also, water conservation! But Melrose Sovereign, which manages the HOA that rules o'er Blake's home, determined that Blake's fake grass was not "Florida-friendly." Blake's neighbors said nothing in the HOA rules banned fake lawns or even mentioned the dispositions of different types of grass. [YouTube]
Even the blessed Virgin Mary can't catch a break from HOAs. A Chaldean deacon named Farouk Samona and his family got a letter from their HOA saying that they had to remove their very normal-sized statue of Jesus's mom from their front yard. Other yards in the neighborhood had statues of frogs and laughing bears and other creatures frolicking in them, but Mary "violated the HOA's bylaws" (i.e., troubled the Samonas' neighbor, who thought the statue might offend someone, someday). [My Fox Detroit, via Chaldean]
Geoffrey Padilla was fined $400 by his HOA for sticking a For Sale sign in the front yard of his Albuquerque-area home. Yet big-business home builders D.R. Horton had For Sale signs stuck in yards all over Padilla's neighborhood, and the HOA didn't complain. Geoffrey Padilla's sign wasn't pretty enough. [YouTube]
Upon discovering that his neighborhood was a playground of sorts for burglars, robbers, and other miscreants, Brady Roberts tried to protect himself and his property by installing bars on his windows. His HOA, the Ballpark Plaza Community Association, responded by charging him a daily $25 fine. Did the HOA use Roberts' money to hire some security guards to protect him and other homeowners? No. Did Roberts hire a lawyer and sue the HOA? Yes. [KHOU]
[Image, top, via Shutterstock.com]