Arizonans welcome new clout vs. HOAs

Laws will address oversight, openness


Article Courtesy of The Arizona Republic

By Jessica Wanke
August 3, 2004 


Ten new state laws, eight of which will be implemented later this month, will usher in what many consider to be the most drastic reform ever made to Arizona's homeowners associations.

A victory for the homeowner rights advocates who lobbied for years for them, the new laws will affect residents who live in the state's thousands of neighborhoods governed by HOAs.

Elizabeth McMahon, president of the American Homeowners Resource Center, said that Arizona, along with Florida, California and Texas, has seen a boom in private planned communities in the past few decades, though government oversight and regulation have been slow to catch up.

These new laws, which range from requiring HOA boards to take public comment at their open meetings to giving all residents the right to post political signs, are a big win for homeowners, McMahon said.

"People (have) woken up in Arizona in the last three or four years and started the movement of educating other homeowners and getting involved in the Legislature," McMahon said. She added that this batch of laws is the most progressive step Arizona has taken to date to monitor the actions of HOAs.

Though progressive, this legislation is only the first of what should be many steps taken to overhaul the state's HOAs, said homeowner Mika Sadai, who has lived under the Casas Adobes Terrace association outside Tucson since 1996.

"All this is scraping some of the symptoms on the top. This does not get to the bottom of it," said Sadai, who drafted the law that will give single homeowners the right to challenge their association in court.

Homeowners associations in Arizona have morphed over the years from small groupings of neighborhoods to large, private, self-contained cities of sorts that include thousands of homes, schools and shopping complexes.

HOA supporters applaud these communities as ways to protect property values and enhance quality of life. They also say overzealous associations, not all associations, are the problem. But with equal fervor, critics say HOAs often have policies that contradict constitutional rights and use processes that can be less than democratic.

Sadai said she doesn't understand why associations are allowed so much power.

"There are no checks and balances. They are the judge, they are the court of appeals, they are the executioner, they are the police, they are the Legislature, they are everything," she said. "This is a prescription for dictatorship."

It is estimated that there are 7,000 to 10,000 HOAs in Arizona, though it is difficult to say exactly because there is no central body that counts them. That issue could be rectified by the new legislation, which will require HOAs to register with their county recorder's office after Aug. 25.

Every bill passed was able to garner support from lobbyists on both sides, those for homeowner rights and those for homeowners associations.

The Arizona-based Coalition of Homeowners for Rights and Education, which advocates for the residents of HOAs, has pushed hard for several years to get these laws passed and will continue its lobbying efforts in the state Legislature next year, said Pat Haruff, CHORE's president.

"We need enforcement of the laws that are on the books," Haruff said.

"We have no one we can go to when there is something wrong."

CHORE's next move, Haruff said, will be to lobby for a state enforcement agency where HOAs would have to be licensed and registered and where disputes between homeowners and their associations could be mediated.

Haruff, also an HOA board member for the Sunland Village community in Mesa, said her ultimate goal is to bar HOA boards in Arizona from extending their authority beyond the common areas. Private property, she said, should be just that: private.

"HOAs should have only jurisdiction over the common areas. If they have auditoriums, if they have tennis courts, if they have swimming pools, that's the area that the HOA should be concerned with," Haruff said.

"They should be taking care of those because that's what my assessments are for. But to come and tell me that my shrub in the front is the wrong kind or is a foot too high, that's ludicrous."

The Community Associations Institute, which traditionally represents the interests of HOAs and management boards, offered tempered support for the new legislation as well.

Mitch Menlove, executive director of CAI's central Arizona chapter, said the bills passed are a good start but are mere quick fixes to deeper problems.

The source of the problem, Menlove said, is bad HOA boards that abuse their power and too few checks and balances.

"With these bills in place, there's still going to be a lot of problems because there'll be boards out there that will basically either ignore them or just decide how to get around them," Menlove said.

"I'd like to see some legislation that would actually solve in a little more dramatic fashion some of the issues and some of the problems, and I believe we have to start at the root, which is bad boards that are not functioning in a professional manner."