When residents clash with homeowner associations, some states step in

Shared by Deborah Goonan, Independent American Communities Blog

A few comments are in order. First of all, this statement in the article makes an inaccurate assumption about an elected board:

Elected volunteer board members usually are responsible for association finances and enforcing the rules.

That simply isn’t the case for many HOAs. For one thing, the developer controls (appoints) the board for several years or even decades, as long as new homes or condo units are still under construction or remain unsold. And the term “election” is used very loosely in many Association Governed Residential Communities (HOAs), because in many cases the board runs unopposed, while in other cases, the election process is entirely skewed or rigged so as to keep the board entrenched. Keep in mind that all too often, the association board retains one or more holdovers from the developer-controlled board, or the vote is controlled by investors that own multiple units.

And regarding this statement:

Dawn Bauman, a senior vice president at CAI, said ombudsman programs often don’t provide relief for homeowners. She said many complaints, such as disputes over putting up a fence or adding a shed, are dismissed or resolved in the association’s favor because residents don’t understand the rules and responsibilities of living in a community association.

Yes, that’s true. But that’s because there is no such thing as full disclosure and mutual agreement between home buyers or owners and the corporate Association entity. At the time of purchase, for the buyer, it is a “take it or leave it” proposition. Either you buy a home subject to a mandatory Association without the right to negotiate the terms of restrictive covenants, or you walk away from the sale. Depending on where you live, finding a home you can afford, in the location you need, but without an HOA – and not a condo – is like finding the needle in a haystack.

CAI knows that nearly every dispute that comes before an Ombudsman or a Judge will be thrown out or resolved in favor of the association, because a “community association” (to use CAI’s terminology) is intentionally designed with a governance system that concentrates power and control in its corporate board of directors. Furthermore, the HOA industry has plenty of powerful lobbyists – most of them with direct ties to CAI – that ensure that Restrictive Covenants (CC&Rs) and statutes that apply to HOAs are slanted far in favor of those who create, feed, and nourish HOAs: developers and real estate investors, community management companies, HOA attorney firms, and vendors that provide various financial and maintenance services to HOAs.

Nevertheless, at least the Ombudsman provides a sounding board for homeowners, and gives state legislators a glimpse of the frequency and extent of problems that exist. Now if only our elected officials would start to listen to constituents, and enact policies that provide real consumer protection.

Originally posted at ccfj.net

Article Courtesy of The Bradenton Herald

By Jenni Bergal

Published October 28, 2015

Has your homeowner association fined you for painting your house purple? Have you ignored requests to pay annual maintenance fees for your condo’s clubhouse and swimming pool? Has your association refused to let you see its financial documents?

These are the types of conflicts that frequently erupt between residents and homeowner or condo associations. Some can get quite heated – or downright nasty.

A small, but growing number of states are trying to tackle the problem by creating ombudsman or homeowner information offices to handle the deluge of complaints that often land at state and local agencies. The goal is to educate residents and association board members about their rights and responsibilities under the law and help settle disputes before they wind up in court.

“You’re dealing with people and personalities and homes and emotions,” said Heather Morton, a legislative analyst for the National Conference of State Legislatures. “Having an ombudsman is a way to have somebody a little more neutral offer help and information to the homeowners and the board, and possibly mediate and bring the parties together so they can reach an amicable solution.”

Last year, Delaware and Illinois passed laws creating ombudsman offices. Delaware’s opened this year; Illinois’ legislation becomes effective in July 2016. Four other states – Colorado, Florida, Nevada and Virginia – already have an ombudsman or a homeowner information center.

Ombudsman bills were introduced this year in six states – Connecticut, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire and New York – but none passed, according to the Community Associations Institute, or CAI, a trade group for homeowner and condo associations and their managers.

ASSOCIATION GROWTH

More than 66 million Americans live in planned communities of single-family homes, or in condominiums or co-ops, according to CAI. The residents automatically become members of an association when they move in and must comply with the association’s covenants and bylaws.

Elected volunteer board members usually are responsible for association finances and enforcing the rules. The boards require dues to operate and maintain common areas, such as clubhouses and sidewalks and, in some places, services such as snow removal and garbage pickup. They can levy fines and place liens on properties when homeowners haven’t paid their fees. And they can regulate the exterior appearance of a home, and enforce rules that affect parking and pets.

Over the decades, the number of associations in the U.S. has exploded, climbing from 10,000 in 1970 to 333,600 in 2014, according to CAI. Florida, California, Texas and Illinois have the largest number of associations.

Ombudsmen say they’re making a difference by preventing conflicts from escalating into legal battles. But CAI, the trade group, questions whether ombudsman offices are necessary.

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When residents clash with homeowner associations, some states step in


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