By Deborah Goonan
If flood waters started to take over your neighborhood, who would you call for help? What if you dialed 911, but nobody showed up?
It happened to Johnny Dueñas and his neighbors in their Bakersfield (CA) Homeowners’ Association. You can check it out right here:
Flooding in Rio Bravo raises questions about storm safety in private communities
When the fire department arrived at the entrance to the subdivision and realized it was a private community, they told homeowners that city services for roads and storm drainage stop at the gates. It’s up the Developer and/or the owners in the Association to maintain their own roads and storm water system. The DR Horton community remains under construction, and under developer control. But homeowners have no idea what can be done to correct problems and prevent future flooding.
A few days ago I blogged about “lakes” and storm water systems in Association Governed Residential Communities, where I exposed the truth about why most new developments contain so many ponds. Those so-called “lake view” lots, for which many buyers pay a premium, are really catch basins for storm water.
It’s quite common for new construction to disturb the flow of water runoff, especially when the lots are cleared but not yet fully graded and landscaped to prevent massive erosion. That can clog storm drains and swales. Maybe that’s what happened in Rio Bravo.
But even after construction is complete, if the storm drainage system has not been properly designed and constructed, or if it is not adequately maintained by the homeowner-controlled Board, flooding can occur.
Here is the truth about planned communities, HOA-governed subdivisions.
First, the local government planning and development commission most likely required the developer to construct roads and storm water drainage systems, and provide for ongoing maintenance paid for and administered by a homeowners’ association.
While your property tax dollars subsidize the cost to maintain roads and storm drainage in non-HOA portions of the city or county, not one dime of those tax dollars is earmarked for maintenance of your own community. For that, you and fellow Association members pay assessments, and then rely upon the Developer and subsequent volunteer homeowner Board to create, fund, and follow a comprehensive maintenance plan.
Here’s a challenge for you. Ask your HOA Board or management company to see a copy of their written maintenance plan for your community. Chances are, there won’t be one.
Second, local code inspections are cursory at best. County and City-level building inspectors cannot realistically supervise every step of the construction process. They merely perform visual inspections at specific stages. Another commonly accepted practice is that the Developer hires his own experts — civil engineers, structural engineers, surveyors, etc. — to evaluate and certify that construction is completed according to approved building plans. Those certifications are then accepted at face value by your City or County Inspector, who issues a Certificate of Occupancy. That gives the green light for the developer to begin selling homes. As you might imagine, this results in a significant amount of sub standard construction being sold to unsuspecting homebuyers.
The Developer is generally long gone before any hidden defects become apparent. If problems surface while the Developer still controls the Board, it can be exceedingly difficult to have them fully addressed, because the developer-controlled Board certainly won’t vote to sue its own company for damages. Generally, the CC&Rs will require homeowners to engage in Mandatory Arbitration to settle claims once HOA Board control is handed over to homeowners. And even that might prove fruitless if the Warranty Period has already lapsed.
Third, as homeowners in Rio Bravo have discovered, in the event assistance is needed, there’s generally no one to call for help. As far as your local City or County government is concerned, you haven’t paid for their services. You have already agreed to provide and self-fund services for your own private community. You’re on your own to figure out what needs to be done, how to do it, and how to pay for it.
That’s kind of like putting you and your neighbors on a deserted island with no food and water, and no previous training in survivor skills. Unless a ship happens to pass by and rescue you, things probably won’t end well.
What to do?
If you think the current arrangement for Association homeowners is unfair and unsustainable, then be part of making change happen.
If you currently live in a Homeowners’ Association, contact your local and state elected officials. Remind them you are a taxpayer and that you deserve admministrative support and services, regardless of where you live. Ask what they will do to assist your Association in maintaining roads and storm water systems to prevent loss of life and property. Remember, your government works for you, not the other way around.
If you are a homebuyer, ask – or insist – that your Realtor show you only homes that are not located in a private HOA. Choose a property with roads and storm water systems maintained by the County or Municipality, and funded by property taxes.