A homeowner's new friend
Mesa activist often at odds about limits, associations
By Dennis Godfrey
Article Courtesy of The Arizona Republic
September 06, 2002 

Pat Haruff had never heard of a homeowners association before moving to Mesa in 1994.

She and her husband moved into Sunland Village, where she came face to face with the development's association.

She learned the law, bothered the board and fought what she thinks is unreasonableness.

Now she is the co-founder of a growing nationwide group: Coalition of Home Owners for Rights and Education.

It works to change laws governing homeowners associations and helps people fight their associations.

"As far as the number of members, I couldn't even begin to tell you. . . . Each day, it just continues to grow," she said.

On a recent day, Haruff got a call from a person in South Carolina with a question. Haruff posted an e-mail message to the network asking for help from someone familiar with South Carolina law. Two hours later, the Carolinian had his help.

Haruff's interests go beyond sharing information. She considers herself an activist, a doer, a thorn in the thumb of the housing industry establishment.

She testifies at hearings. She lobbies at every level of government. And she puts her own sweat into the battle.

It was Haruff and a few others who rallied to help Marie Brown, a 77-year-old Peoria woman who lost her house because she did not pay association fees.

On the most humid days of August, Haruff drove scores of miles to Brown's house to help salvage the valuables left behind when Brown was evicted. She spent whole days getting Brown medical care.

"I guess it was my upbringing," Haruff said. "I've always been the kind of person to stand up and speak up for what I think is right."

In her discussion of association issues, Haruff often speaks negatively of Curtis Ekmark, a lawyer and expert about homeowner associations in Arizona.

For his part, Ekmark said Haruff is a good person, who is not in the fight for personal gain.

"I think one of Pat's strengths is that she is a very energetic and caring person," Ekmark said.

"I think one of her weaknesses is that she tends to view every single issue through a myopic view."

He thinks she often misses the big picture.

Haruff's goals are not to eliminate homeowner associations, she said. "But we need to make legislation so that homeowners are protected," she said.

Haruff welcomes the complaints that come to her daily. She sometimes can help, pointing people in the right direction or making a phone call to someone who feels compelled to listen. Sometimes, she can only advise the person to comply with the association requirements.

The effort is huge and the results often are frustrating.

"It's a huge wall that we're trying to climb over," Haruff said. But she is not quitting. "I'm an optimist. I believe things are good and it can happen."