An Opinion By Jan Bergemann 
President, Cyber Citizens For Justice, Inc. 

Published July 17, 2008

For many years owners living in mandatory homeowners' associations and potential buyers have been told: "Homeowners' associations provide an added layer of protection to help protect your quality of life and property values. It's worth every penny you pay in association fees!"

Today's non-existent real-estate market makes one thing very clear: YOU HAVE BEEN HAD!

The more regulations and restrictions your association has, the more problems you encounter when trying to sell your home -- for whatever reason you want or need to sell. In recent weeks I'm receiving more and more telephone calls and e-mails from desperate families trying to sell their homes, but can't sell it to potential buyers because of existing restrictions the buyer doesn't like.

Especially sellers in so-called “55+ communities” and associations with pet and rental restrictions are taking a big hit -- or are plainly unable to sell. 

A lady from Broward County is desperately trying to find a buyer, since her husband passed away and she wants to move back to her kids up North.  She already lowered the initial sales price by 25% -- but still no buyer. She had a few interested buyers who jumped ship when they heard it's a 55+ community -- and what it really means. So far she hasn’t even found a potential buyer who was in the target age range.

A couple in an HOA in Central Florida found a buyer from Boston over the Internet willing to pay a good price. The potential buyer made the trip to Florida, only to find out that the community had pet restrictions -- no pets allowed. The family lost the potential buyer -- who loved the home -- and will face foreclosure, losing all of their equity, if there is no last-minute buyer.  More than 60% of all American households have pets. Do you think they would give up their pets because a home they like comes with a no-pet rule? 

A couple in the Tampa area finally found a buyer for their home, only to lose him when he found out that the association disallows rentals. He wanted to buy the house as his retirement home, but retirement is still six years away. Until then he wanted to rent out the house to pay for the cost. The lady who called me, desperate to sell the home -- it was the first potential buyer in five months -- cried asking if there isn't anything that could be done? Guess what? She admitted that she even voted four years ago for rental restrictions after being told that it would protect their property values. She believed it!

People that complain about problems in associations are always told: “You signed the contract and you shouldn't have bought the home if you didn't like the rules.”  Not only is it a fact that most of these controversies are caused by changes to these restrictions, not the restrictions initially in place, and that many restrictions were plainly not disclosed.

Or were you informed that you would have to pay your neighbor's cable bill after he abandoned his home?  Or that you would have to pay for the neighbor's lawn mowing after the home was lost to foreclosure?  I don't think so!

More and more associations have to raise their fees to cover the bills -- even levy special assessments to cover the shortfall of income caused by many homes abandoned or foreclosed. And homeowners feel that associations are really not protecting their quality of life nor are they protecting property values. Associations actually cause an added liability that can financially ruin a family's budget, harming especially the elderly on a fixed income!

And if you get in a financial bind your "friendly" neighborhood association will be the first to go after you. Association attorneys are telling the board members that it is important to beat other creditors to the courthouse steps.  Many boards just don't care if your family was hit by a laid-off bread winner, or serious health problems that eat your savings.  "We're always in a race to the courthouse steps." You don't believe it? Please read: Neighbors Kick Family Out Of Home

While the government waits a few years before foreclosing on your home for unpaid property taxes and even the mortgage company will try to work with you to avoid foreclosure -- normally considered the step of last resort -- your formerly "friendly" neighbors have no qualms about kicking you and your family out of your home, even for very small amounts of unpaid fees!

With the number of abandoned homes and foreclosures increasing daily, the situation in our associations is getting worse. Florida 's legislators failed to create the necessary safeguards to protect the owners, who are now facing the downfall of this system called homeowners' association. Everybody knows that homeowners' association reform is desperately needed, but so far nothing has been done to help the owners! This needs to change before more owners run into more financial problems.

For some of these duped homeowners it will be a rude awakening and they will ask the question:

 "What happened to my property values and the added layer of protection I was promised?"