Speaking Out: The curse of the homeowners' association
Article Courtesy of The Gainesville Sun
Talking Back: Lack of housing choice forces double tax burden
on Florida homebuyers - Editorial
Please read some HOA poems from this author!

       Talking Back: Lack of housing choice forces double tax burden on Florida homebuyers

(The writer is is founder and president of Consumers for Housing Choice, a Washington D.C.-based nonprofit advocacy organization. CHC's web site is at www.consumersforhousingchoice.org.) 

Angela V. Woodhull "Speaking Out: The curse of the homeowners' association," Feb. 7 notes that many Florida residents like herself reside in deed-restricted areas in which mandatory membership in a homeowners' association is required. The reason: in many areas of the nation - and particularly in fast-growing Sunbelt states such as Florida - homeowners are paying two kinds of local property taxes. 

The first is the annual property tax assessment based on the home's value. The proceeds fund the cost of roads, street lighting, schools, libraries, parks and public safety that have traditionally been provided by counties and municipalities. 

Over the past three decades, however, a second taxation scheme has been widely put into place: property assessments imposed by these associations. Ranging from less than $100 to several thousand dollars annually, HOA assessments or "dues" are used to cover the costs of infrastructure and recreational amenities in privately governed communities such as condominiums, townhomes and planned unit developments. 

At first glance, one might conclude HOA assessments aren't comparable to property taxes because they exclusively benefit residents of these private developments. But consumers frequently don't have a choice of purchasing a home subject to the jurisdiction of a private government HOA regime and one that is not. That makes HOA assessments the functional equivalent of a second layer of property taxes levied on the vast majority of homebuyers. 

If homeowners refuse to pay the assessments or allow them to become delinquent, Woodhull correctly points out, HOAs like the tax collector can seize their home and sell it at a public auction to cover the arrearages. Nevertheless, HOA assessments unlike property taxes cannot be deducted on federal and state income tax returns. 

Proponents of local government privatization argue that mandatory membership HOAs reduce the financial burdens on municipalities and counties. HOA proponents further argue HOA homebuyers enjoy a higher quality of recreational amenities than are typically provided by cities and counties. 

Consumers for Housing Choice (CHC), a national nonprofit advocacy organization, believes that Florida homebuyers should have the opportunity to decide for themselves if the amenities and benefits of purchasing a home within an HOA are worth the additional tax burden. 

Formal and informal local land use policies that require nearly all new residential development to be part of mandatory HOAs have stymied or eliminated that choice for too many homebuyers and should accordingly be abandoned. We urge homebuyers and taxpayers to assist CHC in eliminating these policies by forming a Florida chapter of CHC and lobbying local governments to do so. 

Published: February 7, 2002

(The writer lives in Gainesville.) 

About 40 years ago, there was an Alfred Hitchcock television episode that made such an impact on me that I can still recall the details. 

In that episode, a couple is trapped in a mortuary vault by the folks who reside in a white house that overlooks the cemetery. The trapped couple spend most of the episode trying, in vein, to find a way to get free. Finally, the man remembers that his dead uncle installed a telephone inside his casket. 

They pry open the vault and dial the operator. Ecstatic relief washes over them as the operator promises to send the police. As they hang up the phone and embrace one another, the camera switches to the other end of the phone line - the people in the white house laugh hysterically; the phone line was directed exclusively to them. 

Recently, I spent weeks investigating homeowners' associations. Many people like me reside in deed-restricted areas in which mandatory membership to a homeowners' association is demanded. Having contacted most of my neighbors, I discovered that the majority of residents would like to dissolve the homeowners' association. 

There are residents with home-based businesses who live in perpetual fear that they will be discovered and, consequently, fined and (their livelihood) shut down; there are people who are livid because they were fined for having an upscale boat, a business-related trailer, or some other possession that is forbidden by the plethora of association rules. There are neighbors who are fed up with arbitrary, selective enforcement of the rules. 

In the beginning, homeowners' associations sounded like an excellent idea, in theory. Residents would share jogging trails, swimming pools, club houses, etc., and pay a fee for these mutually shared benefits. 

But in my neighborhood none of these benefits even exist. There is only a dilapidated playground that contains two rusty swings, a teeter totter, a picnic table (donated by one of the residents), and a basketball hoop with no net. 

To dissolve the association requires 2/3 vote in writing, but (and here's the macabre Catch 22), a significant portion of the properties are owned by the folks who run the show. In the end, our "homeowners' association" is simply a means for a real estate company to do business and allow busy bodies of the neighborhood to tattle violations to the association, which is all too happy to levy fines and write threatening letters and, thereby, collect more fees. 

Homeowners' associations are forms of government that cannot be dissolved. They can add increasingly restrictive rules at their whim, raise the annual dues, and even foreclose on your home if fines and dues are not paid in full. Many neighbors informed me that they did not even realize until after their closings that they were now the unwitting members of an association. 

If you are looking to buy a house, please, read your documents carefully before closing and learn how your "neighborhood association" operates. Checking the Internet, I discovered that many other persons who have researched this topic say they would never buy a property within the domain of a homeowners' association ever again. You'll read true stories of people who lost their houses, spent thousands in court battles, and even a few who committed suicide as a result of being harassed by a homeowners' association. 

Our Bill of Rights has been deeply violated and practically erased with the creation of these entities that dictate your lawn, the type of flowers you can grow, the dog breed you can have, and even, in many cases, the type of vehicle you can own. There is no government recourse because these plots of land are self-governed by the association board. 

Trust has been replaced with caution and suspicion. Where there once were neighbors who associated, now there is only a hostile and controlling neighborhood "association." 

And when one attempts to dissolve these associations, one quickly discovers that they've only been connected to the white house that overlooks the cemetery. 

The Author is a member of CCFJ, Inc.


Coat and tie
You tote a legal pad and brief case
Walk briskly up the south side stair case
And enter through the courtroom door.
Another slam dunk case
A civil action
No defendants to face
You win hands down 'cause no one knows the score
You make your living off the poor.

What day did you decide
That your own glory would be based on lies?
Another judgment--a sweet chunk of change
For filing papers on the folks who sweat for minimum wage!
Who made you!?
I want to know what kind of god made someone like you!
And when you cash their checks
You don't have to look into their eyes
'Cause legalese is your arrogant, legal disguise.

Do you dowse yourself with one or for the road
Before you buy another house of theirs on which you've foreclosed?
Do you ever stop and pray?
Do you look into the mirror
Or do you gloat when you calculate your profits for the year?

It's just another day
You tote a legal pad and brief case
Walk briskly up the south side staircase
And enter through the courtroom door.
Another slam dunk case
A civil action
No defendants to face
You always win 'cause no one knows the score
You make your living off the poor.

It’s a lonely, tidy little neighborhood
Tidy homes with tidy yards
The neighbor walks her yappy little dogs alone
And feigns a friendly wave
Before retreating into her empty home.
Tomorrow her unsuspecting neighbor
Will receive a letter in the mail
Rule violation
Of the Home Owners’ Association.
Alone inside her empty dwelling
She peaks out through her kitchen curtain as the neighbor reads on.
Too many people
Visiting at your yard, your home
And, besides, the RV motor home
Brings our property values down
We therefore give you notice
To correct it within ten days
Or thereafter you will be fined 
Fifty dollars every day.
Ten days pass
The motor home is gone.
There’s no more folks visiting out on the lawn.
But it’s a tidy, little neighborhood
Tidy homes with tidy yards.
The neighbor walks her yappy little dogs alone
And feigns a friendly wave
Before retreating into her empty home.