Mullin: Home groups need more oversight

Groups have too little oversight, Mullin says


Article Courtesy of The Examiner

By Matthew Artz
Published: Wednesday, November 2, 2005

SAN MATEO — Concerned that homeowners associations are wielding too much unchecked power over the residents they regulate, Assemblyman Gene Mullin is sponsoring legislation calling for more state regulation on common interest developments.

Mullin scheduled a hearing for 6 p.m. tonight in San Mateo City Council Chambers on a bill to establish a state ombudsman to help association officers and residents better understand the rules that govern the developments, which account for one-quarter of the state’s housing stock.

“There is no oversight of these organizations, which wield considerable power over people’s lives and homes,” Mullin said in a prepared statement.

The developments have elected homeowners associations that collect millions in fees for maintenance and upkeep of commonly owned property and set design standards for member homes. While many of San Mateo’s associations have run smoothly, the county has seen battles between the associations and individual homeowners.

In Redwood Shores, one disgruntled resident who had to fight to build a fence has created a Web site critical of his homeowners association; four years ago in Daly City, residents sued to dissolve their association, which they said never properly accounted for their dues.

The state doesn’t know how many homeowners association disputes end up in court because there is no vehicle to track them, said Lisa Engel, a staffer with the Assembly Housing and Community Development Committee. “The state’s concern is that these associations often control millions of dollars in fees, but are run by volunteers, who might not have a full understanding of the laws that govern them.”

Under the bill, residents or associations could take disputes to a state ombudsman. The official would offer legal advice, refer mediation services and track complaints. Every resident would be charged an annual $5 fee to pay for the stepped-up regulations. After three years, the legislature could then decide whether to expand the ombudsman’s authority to rule on disputes.

“I support more regulation because, right now, the associations don’t have anybody to answer to, so they can do whatever they want,” said Patrick Gannon, creator of the Web site critical of his homeowners association, The Redwood Shores Owners Association.

Phil Nettle, who sits on that association’s board of directors, called the bill unnecessary state interference. “It revolts me,” he said. “What do they know about my local association?”

A state law passed three years ago requires homeowners association disputes to go to mediation before a lawsuit can be filed.

Last year, the Peninsula Conflict Resolution Center mediated five disputes between residents and homeowners associations and settled four of them, according to the center’s Jennifer Bullock.

Calif. legislation amended to authorize ombudsman