Courtesy of The Examiner
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?”
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.