Homeowner Associations Investigated

Article Courtesy of CLICK2HOUSTON

By Amy Davis
Published June 17, 2009


They charge many of us hundreds of dollars a year, using the money to pay for parks, pools and landscaping. But some say homeowners associations are abusing their power, taking more money and property from homeowners every year.


KPRC Local 2 investigative reporter Amy Davis shows you how some homeowners are fighting back.


Homeowners' dues pay for the swimming pool, tennis courts and landscaping in some neighborhoods, but homeowner Jon Kruger says all he's getting from his HOA in Atascocita South are headaches.


"If I had done something outrageous, I could understand their problem," Kruger told Davis.  


What Kruger did was roof his home of 16 years. Hurricane Ike blew whole sections of it off. Now, Kruger's HOA is calling his new roof substandard.


Even though he replaced it with what he thought was the same color and design shingles he had always had, Kruger's HOA says it's not acceptable.


"The day before Ike it was perfectly fine. But the day after Ike it's substandard and not aesthetically pleasing," Kruger said.


"The homeowner has no effective way to fight back," said attorney David Kahne.


Kahne represents homeowners against HOA's in court, but he says the scales of justice are tipped in favor of the HOA.


"If the association sues you and wins, they get their attorney fees back," Kahne explained. "You pay that."


On the flip side, if you prevail in court, you pay your own attorney's fees.  Since your homeowner dues paid for the HOA lawyer, you'll essentially foot the bill all the way around.


It's why Texas Homeowners for HOA Reform are pushing for new laws to reign in HOA's. They want to take foreclosure power away from HOA's and outlaw $200 a day fines.


More than 100  HOA-related bills were filed at the state capitol this session.  Not a single one passed.


"Follow the rules," said Sandy Denton. "You bought in here. You agreed to follow the rules, so let's do it now."


Denton is the general manager of the Sienna Plantation Residential Association. She spent a lot of time working to convince lawmakers to keep the laws that let HOA's assess big fines and even foreclose on homes when dues go unpaid for whatever reason.


"Is it something that's used excessively? No, it's not," Denton answered her own question. "But it is leverage out there just like a taxing entity has to collect assessments so that a homeowner does pay."


Those who want HOA reform say your money is paying for more than just lighting, fencing and neighborhood amenities.


Take Kruger for example. His HOA is managed by a private company called Community Asset Management. We stopped by to talk with the president of Community Asset Management, but he wasn't available and never returned our calls.


Not only does Atascocita South pay the management company for fining homeowners and collecting those fines and dues, it has also hired an attorney. The attorney charged Kruger a $125 legal fee for sending him a letter about his "substandard" roof.


"The people who want HOA's are the attorneys who make the money, the management companies who make the money and people who want to control others," said Beanie Adolph, a member of Texas Homeowners for HOA Reform.


Adolph has collected thousands of court records that show HOA's are filing against their homeowners more and more. From 2000 to 2007, the number of HOA foreclosure-related filings in just Harris County has jumped 52 percent.


"The biggest scam perpetrated on the American people, that's what they are," said Adolph.


So why didn't our lawmakers pass any of the bills that would level the playing field between HOA's and homeowners? Some say our legislature just had too many bills to consider this session. Others say it didn't help that the HOA industry sent nine paid lobbyists to Austin.


Coming up Wednesday night, what information is your HOA required to give you? You may be surprised what some won't reveal.


If you have a question for an attorney about your rights as a homeowner when battling your HOA, you'll want to tune in Thursday afternoon. We've got a panel of legal experts who will take your calls and answer your questions. The phone bank will be open from 4 to 6:30 p.m.