Dawn is a homeowner and has owned several homes in communities governed by Home Owner Associations.
Beware of HOA
Fines, fees, liens, hearings, lawsuits, and foreclosures, aren't what Homeowners Associations want you to think of when you're considering making a purchase in their community. After all, the job of a homeowners association is to protect and promote property values, and an HOA with a reputation for outrageous mandates and lawsuits against its residents isn't exactly a selling feature that inspires bidding wars. The fact that HOAs have the very real power to take your home or put you into financial ruin is a painful truth these homeowners learned the hard way.
The following stories might have you thinking twice about owning a home within an association and for good reason. As an increasing number of homes are in an HOA, it's important to know exactly how far their authority extends. For these homeowners, the association's authority extended far beyond what they were prepared for. Read and take heed.
HOA Horror Story #1: Auburn Greens - Auburn, CA
Residents of the Auburn Greens community received a notice posted to their doors notifying them of a new mandate to be imposed. Every homeowner with a garage was now ordered to leave their garage doors open weekdays, from 8:00 am- 4:00 pm., or face an immediate hearing and be subjected to a $200 fine. The HOA reasoned the mandate was necessary because they suspected there had been people allowed to reside in a garage within the association, which was not allowed. However, many residents strongly felt this was a gross overreach and abuse of power by their association board, putting their property and belongings in danger of theft and vandalization. In protest, a number of homeowners outright refused to comply, keeping their garage doors closed in defiance. While some creative community members decided to technically comply by leaving their garage doors open a crack, citing the notice did not specify how open the garage doors were to be left. Inasmuch, there were many homes in the neighborhood who's garage doors remained fully open, in complete compliance, albeit begrudgingly. Citing their reason for compliance as mainly financial.
While a conclusion to this disputed mandate has not yet been reported, The Sacramento Bee reports "John Sprankling, a professor at McGeorge School of Law, predicted that a judge could overturn the policy if they find it threatens the safety of residents".
HOA Horror Story #2: Shalimar Terrace - Nampa, ID
November 2017, The Shalimar Terrace subdivision graces the top of KTVB news, as result of a lawsuit that ended in a family selling their home and moving, over a wrought iron fence.
Homeowners in the Shalimar Terrace association wanted to build a black wrought iron fence just like the previous owners of their home had done. To the same specifications even. They submitted one fence proposal to their HOA, as was required by the CC&R's. It was denied. Subsequently, they prepared and submitted a second proposal and waited. And, waited. They received no response to their second proposal. Wanting to protect their young child and pet, they stopped waiting and began building their fence. After all, at least 25 homes in the association had fences, and their neighbor had been told to build a fence for her dogs. Upon completing their fence, the homeowners received a letter from the Shalimar Terrace HOA notifying that they intended to sue in response to the new fence. The homeowners fought against the lawsuit, standing up to the HOA. But, after more than a year and thousands of dollars, the homeowners told KTVB that they gave up their fight because it was too much to bear financially and emotionally. The fence came down, the fight ended and the family moved on, hopefully to a neighborhood without an HOA.
HOA Horror Story #3: Gilead Ridge - Huntersville, NC
In 2016, The Kansas City Star reported that a Gilead Ridge subdivision resident spent $19,000 and nearly lost his home because of 36 pansies he planted without proper HOA approval.
This homeowner lived across from a common area that had a 3-foot by 4-foot area that had been seemingly neglected for years. Tired of looking at the neglected patch of land, to the delight of fellow residents, the homeowner planted 36 pansies. Which, greatly improved his and his neighbor's view of the area. Notwithstanding, within a week the homeowner received a cease and desist letter from the Gilead Ridge HOA attorney, stating that it was a violation to plant in a common area without the board's permission. Without further notice, while the homeowner was out of the country, the HOA board held a hearing deciding to fine the homeowner $100 per day, each day the pansies remained. Eventually, the homeowner received a letter from the HOA stating he owed $6,000 in fines because of the pansies. Days later the homeowner received another letter, this time from the HOA attorney, to make notice that $1500 in legal fees would be imposed. A lien was also filed against the homeowner's property and now was 24 hours from foreclosure. The homeowner forced to pay the fines and legal fees shelled out $9000 to save his home from foreclosure by the HOA. In an effort to recoup the $9000 loss, the homeowner hired an attorney and filed a lawsuit against the Gilead Ridge Home Owners Association. After spending an additional $10,000 in legal fees, the homeowner decided to drop the lawsuit to avoid financial ruin.
HOA Horror Story #4: Brandermill Community - Chesterfield, VA
In 2010, Virgina news outlet NBC 12 and local Chesterfield newspaper, The Chesterfield Reporter, reported on a Brandermill community standoff as a result of their HOA demanding 3800 residents replace their mailboxes with a $155, HOA approved, mailbox.
Wanting to upgrade and unify the appearance of the community's park-like setting, the HOA held a meeting to discuss requiring residents to upgrade their mailboxes. 70% of the residents in attendance at that meeting stood up and voiced their stance against the proposed requirement, citing mostly financial reasons and principal as their motivation. The Brandermill community HOA disregarded the voice of their community and proceeded to mandate the $155 dollar upgrade upon its 3800 residents. In a defiant show of solidarity, the community began painting their mailboxes yellow, giving the HOA the appearance of unity they sought to gain by a decree. Each day that passed another mailbox turned yellow, prompting the HOA to remind it's residents that the mailbox mandate also stipulated that if a resident failed to comply they faced a $10 per day fine and possible court action. The community, unmoved, stood steadfast in their show of defiance, stating that now the protest was about principle. The HOA disregarded the community and in turn, the community was disregarding the HOA, the fight was no longer about the money. Meanwhile, the Brandermill HOA board held firm to their decision and a full-blown standoff was born. Neither side willing to give way.
While the conclusion to this standoff has not been widely publicized, later in 2010, Richmond, VA publication Style Weekly, reported that the mailbox debacle was the first of many. Subsequently, leading the community into further discord.
HOA Horror Story #5: Eagle Masters Association - Odessa, FL
In 2010, The Eagle Masters Association made the headlines of FoxNews after a resident spent nearly $200,000 to defend a lawsuit brought against him for parking in his own driveway. That's right, his own driveway.
In 1997, when the homeowner originally purchased property, The Eagle Masters Association allowed its residents to park in their driveways. Which seems like it should be a right, rather than a privilege. However, some years later the residents of the subdivision were stripped of their privilege to park in their driveways when the homeowners association reversed the rule. At the time, this homeowner owned a large truck, which was too big to fit into the garage and as a result was parked in his driveway exclusively. Upset, the HOA imposed this rule without consideration for how it affected him as a resident, the homeowner decided to stand up to the association board and fight for his right to park in his driveway. Prompting The Eagle Masters Association to sue in response, beginning a two-year legal showdown. Determined to firmly stand his ground the homeowner hired an attorney and headed to court. After a lengthy fight, in 2008, a judge ruled in favor of the homeowner's right to park in the driveway of his residence. However, set on enforcing their authority, the HOA board appealed, sending the case into another two years of battle. In 2010, after having spent an obscene amount of money and years defending his case, a judge for a second and final time, ruled in favor of this homeowners right to park in his own driveway. In addition, the judge also awarded the homeowner to receive $187,000 in legal fees, putting this dispute to rest for good and making this homeowner the only one on our list to successfully fight and win against an HOA.
Can Your HOA Do That?!
As we've learned, homeowner associations have an immense amount of power over the homes and residents within their community. Many times homeowners find themselves in a situation with their association that has them scratching their heads, wondering "Can they do that?" In the second article of this series, "HOA Gone Bad: Can Homeowner Associations Do That?", we discuss and answer some common questions about what an HOA is allowed to do.
Do You Have An HOA Horror Story?
Tell us your homeowners association story in the comments below!
Have you ever lived in a community with a homeowners association? What was your experience? Was it what you thought it'd be? Would you ever live in another HOA community?
We'd love to hear from you!
© 2018 Dawn M
Carrie Lee Night from Northeast United States on May 17, 2020:
Wow these were much worse than our case. We had several run in ' s with the HOA where we used to live. We had to redo the trim on the house after we sold it to fullfill the color requirements. We lost thousands of dollars in profit. They were attempting to have use redo the roof because the shingles color was not pre-approved. Now we understood we should of tried to get pre-approval but when you have a leaking roof you cant wait for several weeks to get a determination. By the grace of God, they did not persue us regarding that. We were threatened to be fined several times regarding little knit picky issues, such as the trash can needs to be out of street view, lawn too tall, bushes too tall and so on. I loved our community there but dont miss the rules :)
hellodivorce on November 21, 2019:
DDR@gmail.com on March 29, 2019:
Owner built fence and screening around propane tank without "permission." After the fact, permission was requested, plans submitted, and received ... 2 letters documented attesting to approval. President of HOA, whose husband was on the design committee. She received letter from consultant architect outlining why the design was not compliant. However, the President didn't forward the letter to the board until a year after plans submitted...many months after both approval letters submitted to the homeowner. Current board felt a promise was made, i.e. approval given, however past president, husband, and new (anoretentive) design committee now believes the homeowner should be sanctioned....just in time to interrupt an upcoming sale. What would you do?