Cortesy of the ARIZONA DAILY STAR
August 29, 2004
When a Midtown homeowners association made Michael Bryan
take down the sign in his window supporting Howard Dean for president earlier
this year, Bryan struck a blow for thousands of homeowners in the Tucson area.
|Bryan, who was
finishing law school at the University of Arizona, did some research and
found out that the no-signs rule in the Crest Ranch Homeowners
Association, near North Campbell Avenue and East Prince Road, had state
law on its side.
So Bryan talked to Rep. Tom Prezelski,
D-Tucson, and they changed the law.
Bryan put up another political sign in front
of his home on Wednesday, a day when eight of 10 new state laws took
effect to regulate homeowners associations.
sign will stay up, thanks to the new law that says
associations in Arizona must permit political signs around election time.
The new laws also expand other rights for
homeowners and require associations to assume more of the responsibilities of
public governments, such as holding open meetings and avoiding conflicts of
As HOA membership becomes part of buying new homes
here, some owners are asking for associations to be more responsive to the
concerns of citizens.
|More changes may
be on the way, according to two Tucson-area state representatives who
helped sponsor much of the recent legislation, as HOA issues continue to
be a topic in the new legislative session.
The new laws were prompted because disputes
between homeowners and associations aren't limited to whether it's
appropriate to put up red, white and blue pieces of cardboard before an
election. In some cases, associations have threatened to foreclose on a
member's home for violating association rules or failing to pay dues.
Associations can exercise power in
matters large and small.
In 2000, the Ladera Brisas Homeowners
Association on the West Side sued a property owner on grounds that a dog
barked too much during the night. The court ordered the dog removed from
the property, and the couple was asked to pay about $1,100 in fines and
Several ongoing cases in Pima County
Superior Court involve the Kino Meadows Homeowners Association, which
has threatened to foreclose if residents don't pay their dues.
HOAs often wield as much power over people's
everyday lives as city governments or school boards, said Rep. Linda
Associations exist to help increase property
values by fostering attractive, well-maintained neighborhoods.
"They need to be accountable to their
membership," Lopez said. "And they need to be
To that end, some citizens and lawmakers are
asking that the state subject HOAs to some of the same checks and
balances as public governments.
The laws that took effect recently apply to
the roughly 650 homeowners associations in the Tucson area.
No exact figure exists for the number of
homeowners in Pima County who belong to an HOA. If Tucson follows the
U.S. average, at least 25,000 homeowners in Pima County belong to an
If Tucson is closer to Phoenix's rate for
association membership, then about 100,000 homes in Pima County belong
to an HOA or condominium association. About 233,000 households in Tucson
own their homes, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Stephen Weeks, a Tucson attorney
who represents homeowners in disputes with associations, said most HOAs
act as citizen democracies, but a few fall prey to
"mini-dictators" who may abuse authority to enforce rules and
Until last week:
● Property owners could be denied a
chance to speak at HOA board meetings, a right that's always given at
school board and city council public meetings.
● HOA boards could close meetings to
homeowners to discuss board rules or policies, something usually not
allowed in public government.
Other changes are designed to make sure
people understand their HOA contracts before they join, and to protect
against foreclosure from overzealous association board members.
"What we see in Arizona is a drive
toward transparency," said W. Grant Parker, president of the board
of directors of the Southern Arizona Chapter of the Community
Associations Institute, whose members manage 146 homeowners and
community associations locally.
As HOA membership is becoming more common,
Parker said, more people are asking about the proper balance between
protecting property values and preserving individual freedoms.
"It's boiling down to a debate between
property rights and individual rights," Parker said.
Weeks said boards that become too inflexible
about rules can produce lawsuits from frustrated homeowners trying to
resolve disputes. Weeks has represented clients in disputes stemming
from whether a landscaped yard or a renovated driveway conforms to
Boards often have the right to fine members
for violating their HOA contracts. Fines can run $100 or more for a
violation, and often can be imposed monthly.
Weeks said disputes occur infrequently,
and that most associations work well.
"For the most part, it's a good
thing," he said. "Community associations improve property
values. They do help out; you don't want somebody moving down the
street and painting their house polka-dotted. It's not
Parker agreed that legal disputes are
rare, but said it's not surprising that homeowners associations have
become a topic of interest.
"You're talking about people's homes,
their money and their lifestyle," he said.
Money is key issue
Money can be a key sticking
Most associations collect dues - often
called assessments - from property owners for community upkeep and
Dues can range from a few dollars per
month to thousands per year. Continental Ranch property owners pay
about $10 per month, while members of SaddleBooke's HOA No. 1 pay $100
per month, which helps fund a fitness center, arts and crafts, and
neighborhood security services. The national median is $26 per month.
Most Tucsonans who have bought a new home
in the past 10 years, or are buying one now, end up joining an
association, said John Strobeck, a Tucson housing analyst.
Production builders usually start HOAs as part of new neighborhoods or
subdivisions, he said.
"I think it's almost exclusive that
they do it," Strobeck said. "I don't know of any that
Marty Ledvina, who lives in Continental Ranch,
took his community association to court in 2001.
Ledvina, a retired attorney, city attorney and
administrative law judge, wanted to see how much the association was spending
on attorney fees.
Ledvina said the association bylaws gave him the
right to find out. After about $2,500 in legal bills in court, a Pima County
Superior Court judge sided with the association.
"They spent hundreds, thousands of dollars
trying to keep me from getting the information," Ledvina said.
Under the new laws, homeowners have greater access
to records on association meetings and finances.
Ledvina said he'd like to see further changes to
allow property owners to challenge an HOA in small-claims court, which would
lower the costs of a legal challenge.
Ruling "with an even hand"
Other HOA members support the job that
their associations do. Cliff May, 82, has belonged to a town-home association
in Midtown since 1987.
The board has historically ruled "with an
even hand, as opposed to an iron hand," May said, adding that the quality
of an association depends on the fairness of its board.
"I feel that with the best membership
possible, it's very advantageous to have an association," May said.
Rep. Ted Downing, D-Tucson, helped sponsor six of
the new laws, and said that more legislation may be on the way in the new
Downing said he'd like to try to stop HOA board
members who use their position to enrich friends or relatives by giving them
contracts for services like pest control or landscaping.
Such conflicts of interest would be forbidden in
the public sector, but Downing said many people don't know that the rules that
apply to government may not exist in HOAs.
"Governments don't quite have the same powers
in an area where the homeowners association is," Downing said. "A
lot of people are moving to Arizona who are unfamiliar with this type of
arrangement when they buy a home. I think they come here and they don't
understand what they bought into until they're there.
Lopez said the state needs to look at a way to
help homeowners and associations settle disputes without hiring lawyers.
"Should there be some kind of mediating third
party?" Lopez said. "It seems to me we need something else."