Things you don't know about your HOA

Article Courtesy of The Northwest Explorer

By James C. Sandefer

Published September 15, 2006

If you live in a homeowner association (HOA) governed community, there may be many things you don't know and aren't being made aware of, unless you're on the board of directors, are close friends with a board member or are possibly part of an "insider's clique."

In time, many homeowner associations become insulated from residents and their concerns. Attending meetings can be as interesting as watching a weed grow.

Here are 10 things anyone living under a HOA should watch for:

1. Boards lack adequate oversight and can become flawed forms of corporate "government." Some are potential lawsuit magnets, with homes and annual dues serving as collateral.

What if your board decides to float a loan or establish a line of credit to finance grandiose expansions without asking for homeowners' approval? Their actions ultimately could sink the place. According to recent media reports, poor or unchecked financial management often tops the list of reasons why some associations get hauled into court by lenders and residents.

2. You might be one election away from authoritarianism. Think about it. It just takes one rotten, egotistical apple to taint an entire board. Maybe that's why management companies have emerged as bailout options for many HOA's teetering on crisis. Staying on the sidelines while the egomaniacs fight for the coveted title of "retirement compound idiot" may be one's safest vantage point.

3. A board position may not be open to all homeowners. Some boards have cleverly set up "election" committees to screen would-be candidates under the guise of ferreting out the best-qualified applicants. I've learned that some HOA board members arrange for their spouses or HOA employees to serve on such committees, to allegedly ensure that "proper" candidates get a vote. Anything is possible when people with too much time on their hands get a fresh whiff of power and influence.

4. HOA "elections" may be plagued by fraud. Do you know who counted the ballots after your last HOA board election? Were the counters pre-screened by board members or their "election" committee? Were you allowed to watch the tabulation process from beginning to end? What happened to the ballots? There may be an unspoken reason for why the tabulation process is closed to residents.

5. Power can creep into a person's psyche at any point and affect the way he or she views reality. To divisive board members, they're no longer just homeowners, they're "special" homeowners and entitled to have their opinions both heard and adhered to, without objection from "ordinary" residents. What they say, in many cases, becomes "retirement compound law."

6. You may never know who is in charge of the money or where it's going. Have you seen a line item accounting of your HOA's annual spending? What you might find could hurt "them," in a court of law or, worse yet, in the court of compound opinion.

7. Changes can occur in association facility management as well as in the mindsets of those running the show. Board members, for the most part, are caring human beings like the rest of us. But not all had their egos adequately fulfilled earlier in life.

8. Check your rights at the entrance. Like it or not, you will be controlled by a handful of "elected" residents with "compound police" powers to assess, fine, lien or foreclose on your home. Don't believe it? Try missing a payment of your annual dues. See to how long it takes your board to act. It'll be on you like a tomcat on a toad. Try asking for repairs to a few crevasses in the streets, however, and watch the hoops and red tape appear.

9. A handful of "elected" residents can act as judge, jury and executioner when determining the appearance of your "home sweet home" and everything around it.

10. State laws may not cover a majority of HOA issues. Politicians have managed to stay out of the fray for good reason. They don't have a clue how to fix a mess that has for years been spiraling out of control. There's no re-election money in it.

If you're flipping frantically through the yellow pages looking for realtors, relax. Not every HOA is headed for collapse. Even so, if any of the above items gained your attention, then start asking some questions and insist on getting straightforward answers.

If you're denied information, you have some recourse. A new law takes effect Sept. 21 that allows homeowners - at a cost of $500 - to present their disputes to an administrative law judge. The new law also could simplify the process for recalling out-of-control HOA boards. For more information, go to

Getting stonewalled by your HOA is no longer something you have to live with during your retirement years.