By Deborah Goonan, Independent American Communities
As more and more homeowners complain about living in Association Governed Residential Communities – homeowner and condo associations – local and national media are beginning to put out calls for personal horror stories. And they are getting them.
Here’s one of the latest from News 6 WKMG in Central Florida:
What’s most interesting about these Facebook posts is the comments that follow. Of course, the obligatory comment that always pops up goes something like this:
“If only homeowners were educated as to what it means to live in a homeowners’ or condo association, if only they weren’t so apathetic. Then all would be paradise in our community.”
But will education make your HOA a better place to live?
For over 40 years, the HOA industry’s leading trade organization, Community Associations Institute (CAI) has claimed to be the source for education of owners, managers, and attorneys on all things related to “community associations.”
Yet the very same problems have persisted for nearly 5 decades. In fact, with the proliferation of Association-Governed housing and limited non-HOA choices in many housing markets, conditions have been getting worse.
There has been no indication of improvement at all. We still hear numerous reports of theft and embezzlement, abuse of homeowner rights, cases of blatant discrimination through selective enforcement of unreasonable CC&Rs, entire communities in financial ruin and overrun with crime and blight.
Most associations are dangerously close to bankruptcy – one contentious lawsuit, devastating fire, or natural disaster pushes them over the edge and into the abyss.
And, I can tell you that many, many HOA stories are never publicly reported. I hear from owners and residents on a regular basis that are going through their own personal HOA hell. They don’t come forward because they fear retaliation, or they are afraid they won’t be able to sell their home and move elsewhere.
Is CAI educating homeowners or merely indoctrinating service providing stakeholders in the HOA Industry game?
To answer this question, all one has to do is read CAI’s Public Policies.
Let’s take policy number one, for example: Aesthetics as an Economic Issue. Here’s an excerpt:
Governing documents obligate the association to “maintain” the property. Sometimes governing documents also expressly provide aesthetic controls within the declaration, restricting fence styles or paint color choices. Where governing documents are generalized or even silent on aesthetics, many communities craft policy resolutions to address details and procedures relating to architecture, landscaping and other aesthetic interests. When communities fail to construct or consistently enforce aesthetic policy, the result is usually property that lacks visual coherence due to poorly contemplated and executed aesthetic schemes. The results can be devastating for owner lifestyle and property value.
Does anyone truly believe that if a neighbor paints her front door blue or bright red or deep purple, it will “be devastating for owner lifestyle and property value?”
I’ll tell you what’s devastating to quality of life and property values. It’s when your HOA fails to maintain the common elements to adequate health and safety standards. It’s when your HOA fails to clean the community pool or repair broken playground equipment or clean the muck out of its lakes and ponds.
It’s when your HOA fails to maintain dams and proper storm drainage, resulting in widespread flooding in the community or downstream.
It’s when a bully board considers it their duty to go after unpopular homeowners with baseless lawsuits. Or when certain HOA members complain bitterly about the sound of children playing, and the board responds by sending the kids outside the community to play, so they don’t mess up the common areas or disturb your child-hating neighbor.
It’s when a rogue, opportunistic board member or unattended manager helps him- or herself to thousands and thousands of dollars of your hard-earned assessment money, and then, even if arrested and prosecuted, manages to wiggle out of paying full restitution.
Aesthetics in terms of maintaining an artificially pristine appearance is not an economic issue for homeowners and residents. It’s only an issue for an HOA industry that thrives off the misconceptions and irrational fears of some buyers and property owners.
CAI Public Policy number one is, in my opinion, pure indoctrination for managers, HOA attorneys, and the kind of homeowners that CAI wants to see on HOA Boards. You know, the kind that buy all this nonsense and can’t wait to hire one of their professional manager – attorney duos. (Not to mention all the other “preferred vendors” that the management company recommends.)
But don’t take my word for it. Just read the last paragraph, especially the last sentence of Aesthetics as an Economic Issue:
CAI strongly supports community-crafted aesthetic controls, in accordance with governing documents or supplemental thereto, and opposes any and all attempts by federal, state and local government to interfere, ignore or negate the contractual obligation between associations and its members permitting and requiring the association to maintain aesthetics that meet lifestyle expectations of the collective ownership, match a standard of cleanliness and maintenance and are part of a larger, unified aesthetic scheme. Architectural or design review committees should include professionals or seek advice from CAI business partners on a regular basis.
Note the effort to close the sale on the services of CAI professionals, as well as the reference to the “collective ownership.” In other words, your individual rights and aesthetic preferences do not matter in your HOA.