By Deborah Goonan
Tymber Skan is a 1970s condominium association near Orlando. For more than a decade, the community has been plagued by crime and blight. In recent years, although some of the units have been condemned and torn down, the ones that remain are in deplorable condition.
Just last year, Orange County worked with a few remaining long-time owners to settle over $90,000 in uncollected water bills, to allow the owners a chance to turn the place around. This Orlando Sentinel video gives you some idea of the history of Tymber Skan, and just how dilapidated the condominiums have become. These photographs published by the Daily Mail in February 2015, show that condo owners are making little progress at improving living conditions. On the contrary, according to tenants interviewed for the article, units are in a state of disrepair and infested with rats! In March, Orlando Sentinel reported that one person was killed and two injured in a shooting that local authorities are calling a homicide. The bullet holes are still visible in the walls of the affected condo unit.
Well, here we are in middle of summer 2015, and WESH2 News is reporting that several tenants have received eviction notices, giving them one week to move out. Letters from the Management company state that the condos have failed to meet state health and safety standards. The video clearly shows condemnation notices and boarded up doors and windows on already-abandoned units. WESH2 interviews current tenants that claim they have nowhere else to go, and will likely require financial assistance to relocate.
WFTV9 is reporting that, according to HOA Board member Lorenzo Pinkston of Tymber Skan, “90% of the residents are squatters” without a valid lease, some of them living in condemned, boarded up units. Pinkston has asked Orange County Commissioners for help from law enforcement to forcibly remove the squatters. When you watch the video, the community looks like a war zone. The properties must be essentially worthless.
Tymber Skan is just one of many dysfunctional HOA communities (another one I’ve written about is Blossom Park Condo). Tymber Skan illustrates that, for all the industry hype about the necessity of Homeowners’ Associations to “preserve and enhance property values,” there is no guarantee those expectations will be met. No one knows for sure how many HOAs are suffering similar conditions, but we do know that many were hit hard by the real estate crash and foreclosure crisis that began in 2008. And some communities may never fully recover.
So why would we believe that HOAs protect property values?
If you think about it, property values are directly tied to whether or not owners can afford to maintain their homes and the neighborhood to high standards. When middle class and affluent families began fleeing to the suburbs in droves 40-50 years ago, that eroded the tax base of cities. Those cities soon became tax poor, neglected, and havens for crime.
The same dynamic is at play for HOAs. When owners that can afford to pay assessments move out in droves looking for more modern homes and perhaps more personal freedom in a non-HOA neighborhood, the HOA often becomes cash poor, unable to afford adequate maintenance and security. In addition, because Association-Governed Residential Communities have only one source of revenue (collection of assessments) they are even more vulnerable to economic recessions than municipalities. So it should come as no surprise that blight and crime can – and often do – affect HOAs, perhaps even more than cities and small towns. That’s because HOAs are privately governed communities, and local governments are highly reluctant to offer support services, often leaving struggling residents to fend for themselves.
Perhaps it’s time to acknowledge the relatively low value of imposing extensive deed restrictions upon communities. Obviously, they are of no value to owners or tenants at Tymber Skan. Instead, we should look for ways to boost financial stability and public administrative support as a way to protect not only property values, but also human values.