'We Fought Our HOA and Won!' and How You Can, Too

Article Courtesy of  REALTOR.COM

By Angela Colley

Published May 14, 2017


Living in a neighborhood with a good homeowners association, or HOA, can be a blessing. It takes care of the neighborhood landscaping, sets up the neighborhood garage sales, and generally keeps things in order. In other words, it does all the stuff you don't want to do.

Unfortunately, not all HOAs are the bake sale–and–petunias type. Some can get downright bossy about how your home looks, what you can build, and more. And when that happens, you have three choices: Suck it up and fall in line, move out, or fight back.

Think fighting back is futile? Not according to these homeowners below, who rebelled against their HOA and won—and their stories will convince you that maybe you can, too.

The case of the purple playground

Purple might be the color of royalty, but in Lee Summit, MO, it might just get you locked up. In 2014, Marla Stout and her family built a pretty awesome playground for their children and let their children pick the color: purple. The HOA saw red—and things escalated.

According to Fox News, the HOA considered this purple swingset an eyesore for the entire neighborhood, and even threatened to put the parents in jail. The parents, however, took their case to court and a judge ruled: Let purple reign!

Lesson learned: Yes, HOAs can have a say over what color you paint your home, your mailbox, your swingset, or anything else visible to the public. But in order for it to stick, banned colors must be clearly listed in the rules.

According to Consumer Affairs, this particular judge sided with the purple play set (and its owners) because the HOA rules stated only "subdued and within harmony with other colors of the community," not that purple wasn't allowed.

A nice new lawn—for $2,212

In 2002, during a bad drought in Tampa, FL, Ed Simmons' lawn died. So the Pebble Creek HOA sent a landscaping crew to spiffy things up with some fresh sod. Nice, right? Simmons thought so—until he was slapped with a $2,212 bill for the work.

According to the Tampa Bay Times, the homeowner refused to pay and took the HOA to court. The HOA didn't back down, so the lawsuit dragged on. Eleven years later, a judge ruled in favor of the homeowner to the tune of $85,000. (Unfortunately, after over a decade of legal battles, the homeowner was out more than $220,000 in legal fees.)

Lesson learned: Yes, an HOA can charge you for neglected lawn care if it has to intervene in extreme cases. But it can't just show up, do the job, and then expect you to reimburse the costs without warning. Homeowners have a right to written warnings ahead of time, including for the costs they'll incur. That way they have time to take matters into their own hands (like finding far less expensive sod).

A not-so-sunny sunroom renovation

In 2011, Charles and Melanie Hollis decided to build a sunroom for their two children with Down syndrome to receive therapy in their Franklin, TN, home. According to The Tennessean, the couple filed plans with the HOA, and then things stopped. For the better part of a year, the HOA went back and forth with the couple asking for more and more documents until they finally sued and won a $156,000 settlement.

Lesson learned: While an HOA does have the right to approve or deny major renovations, the Fair Housing Act does not allow it to prevent you from making reasonable modifications to your home if those modifications are necessary for anyone with a disability. Because the Hollises needed the space for at-home therapy, the HOA violated the Fair Housing Act by denying this renovation.


The $500 mailbox no homeowner could refuse

In 2009, Bowie, MD, resident Keith Strong received a letter in his mailbox from his HOA; it demanded Strong get a new mailbox. Apparently the HOA had decided some of the mailboxes in the neighborhood were getting a bit tattered and wanted everyone to upgrade to the same one—to the tune of $500 per box. Strong, having just bought a perfectly fine $35 mailbox a few months earlier, would not comply. The HOA tried to fine him $100 for every month Strong didn't upgrade, so he sued the HOA for $1 (just to prove he wasn't out for a profit; all he really wanted was for the HOA to admit it was wrong). Seven years later, he won. He'd also racked up $33,000 in litigation fees, so that means his mailbox actually cost him $33,035!

The $500 mailbox that started an epic seven-year battle.


Lesson learned: While the HOA has broad powers to mandate you keep up your home's appearance, matching mailboxes steps over the line. But since the litigation can get pricey, it's worth airing your grievances first with your HOA board by attending its regular meetings—and seeing if anyone else shares your feelings. Strong had tried that route and found that many of his neighbors agreed with him, but they caved out of fear of the HOA. Still, it gave him the incentive he needed to forge ahead.