Article Courtesy of FOX NEWS
February 9, 2016
If you own your home, you may be king or queen of your
domain. However, if it's part of a planned community or complex, you'll probably
need to kowtow to a homeowners association. And you may wind up feeling a bit
more like a serf.
The HOA, which enforces community rules and maintains common areas, can be quite
useful -- but sometimes it can come across more like Big Brother. Read about
HOAs that put neighborliness aside all in the name of rules, and how you can
cope if yours does the same.
Changing its tune on a change of paint color
The color blue is supposed to be calming, but in October 2015 it got some
neighbors seeing red. According to news site KHOU.com, newlyweds Keely and Peter
Dubrova had decided to paint their home in Atascocita, TX, a vivid shade of teal
-- with permission from their HOA. A week and a half later, the same board
demanded the Dubrovas repaint after an online photo of their so-called Smurf
house sparked an uproar, and even threats to "to hang them."
Expert advice: "The HOA cannot legally revoke approval after the
homeowners have relied on the approval and spent money on it," says Mike Hunter,
an attorney with Horack Talley in Charlotte, NC, who focuses on community and
condominium law. So, the Dubrovas should stand their ground; but if they're open
to repainting, the HOA should foot the bill.
Not making a concession for a disabled kid
Due to a disability that meant their daughter needed to use the bathroom
frequently, Gary and Renee Kuhn of Keizer, OR, needed a fully-appointed RV to
drive her to and from doctor appointments. Yet in January, KATU News reported
that the McNary Estates Development's HOA wouldn't allow the Kuhns to park said
RV in their own driveway, citing bylaws that ban the vehicles. Instead, the HOA
suggested the parents park the RV in a lot a few miles away because, hey, why
make things easier for parents of a disabled child?
Expert advice: "The federal Fair Housing Act guidelines require
HOAs to make 'reasonable accommodations' to persons with disabilities to allow
them full use of their home," says Hunter. "So in this case, law in this area
leans heavily in favor of the homeowner." It's no wonder, then, that the Kuhns
are now suing their HOA.
Cooking the books, casino-style
HOA managers handle tons of cash without much oversight. A cynic could ask: How
hard could it be for some of those managers to skim a bit off the top for
themselves? Well, that's what Susan Marie Lambert decided to do as an officer of
the Woodlake Homeowner Association in San Mateo, CA, bilking the group of almost
$3 million over six years.
According to the Daily Journal, Lambert and a contractor billed phony invoices,
then the two split the cash for work that was never performed. Homeowners
finally noticed something was off in January when Lambert made an ATM withdrawal
at a casino using an HOA card. Brilliant!
Expert advice: Hunter advises HOA members to set up security
measures to protect HOA funds.
"Keep track of who has signature authority on accounts," says Hunter. "Require
two signatures on checks, including at least one board member. Avoid credit
cards in the HOA's name, and require a fidelity bond covering any person or
company that's handling the HOA's finances."
Retroactively banning roommates
In December, the Idaho-based Buffalo Junction HOA kicked out condo renter Collin
Wheeler and his roommate when the organization charged that they did not meet
the requirements of a "family." The HOA board wrote a letter stating that the
term "is defined to include parents (or single parent) and children and other
dependents." But according to news outlet TVN, this rule didn't exist when
Wheeler moved in -- it was added, seemingly, to boot young renters like him.
Expert advice: In this case, Hunter questions whether the HOA can
legally impose a new rule and make it retroactive. In any case, Wheeler has
found a new place -- one with no HOA, he hopes.
Charging a fee to keep the nearby golf course afloat
You buy a home next to a golf course managed by a separate company. But if that
golf course threatens to close due to low membership, who pays? In Rancho
Mirage, CA, the Morningside HOA thinks all the residents who live along the
course need to start yelling, "fore!" According to the Desert Sun, the HOA added
a mandatory club membership fee at $250 a month on top of the $1,050 HOA dues.
Expert advice: These residents can most likely lay down the clubs
and refuse to pay up.
"The homeowners should examine their governing documents for increasing
assessments and consult with an attorney," Hunter advises.
Great place for the Grinch
Residents of Mesa, AZ, didn't have a very merry Christmas in 2015, due to a
letter sent from the HOA instructing them to take down holiday decorations
outside their homes.
Expert advice: Sure it sounds mean-spirited, but in this case HOAs
might determine that they have little choice in the matter, Hunter says.
"If the board allowed Christmas wreaths, they would stand accused of
discrimination if they later denied other decorations like a pentagram,
distasteful pictures, or political signs," he points out.
To avoid this "slippery slope," Hunter allows that like-minded owners could
"propose an amendment to the condo's governing documents that would allow
holiday decorations for a finite number of days."