State office to help residents in HOA disputes should be set up

 

Editorial Courtesy of The East Valley Tribune

Published February 7, 2005

 

Although the Arizona Legislature passed some badly needed homeowners association reforms, abuses haven't stopped. That is because homeowners are still pretty much on their own when they want to challenge an HOA rule or enforcement action they deem unjust or excessive.

 

The Kourys of Gilbert know what a frustrating, lonely battle that can be. As the Tribune's Le Templar reported on Monday, the couple has had trouble getting plumbing and other problems in their condominium taken care of by their HOA even though they pay $100 a month in dues. And last year, when the complex's swimming pool turned green, they couldn't get answers on what the problem was.

People in the Kourys' predicament don't have a local or state agency they can call when things turn sour with an HOA. Often the only recourse is to hire a lawyer at their own expense. Adding insult to injury is the fact that their own HOA dues are going to pay the association's lawyers that will be battling them in court.

We've urged the Legislature repeatedly in this space in recent years to create an HOA ombudsman's office possibly in the Arizona Attorney General's Office. Or it could be an arm of the County Attorney's Office.

It would act much like the state attorney general's consumer-complaint office.
Someone with a complaint about their HOA would be able to call, write or e-mail the office. A specialist would analyze the complaint and determine if it had merit; people grousing about normal HOA rules presumably would be told to comply or move. But someone else who, say, faced a large fine for not trimming a hedge just so, or failing to bring a trash barrel in pronto, would get a sympathetic ear. As with the consumer complaint office, the specialist might try to get the complaint resolved without resorting to legal action.

But in cases of blatant abuse where HOAs were levying exorbitant penalties for petty infractions, the agency ought to have the legal teeth to stop the abuse and even exact penalties. Due process must prevail, with each side's rights being respected.

This is the kind of meaningful reform needed to protect not only homeowners who are wronged, but also homeowners who buy into HOAs because of the benefits these associations provide, including maintenance of common areas and protection of property values.

Unfortunately, as in years past, several bills have been introduced intended to cripple HOAs' ability to perform the legitimate functions they are intended to perform. Those should be defeated, and true reform, in the form of an ombudsman's office, should be passed.

 

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