By Deborah Goonan, Independent American Communities
Chances are, if you actually choose to live in an HOA, you do so expecting a clean, safe neighborhood. And maybe you envision yourself lounging by the community pool after a round of tennis.
After all, the political spin from the Association Governed housing industry is that HOAs enhance and protect property values, keep the community looking good, and provide affordable access to amenities most homeowners could otherwise not afford.
But, like most political spin, there’s not much truth behind the hype.
The Westbrooke Village Homeowners Association in Trotwood, Ohio, is one of many examples of HOAs that don’t offer much value for your assessment dollars.
WHIO-TV reports that homeowners in Westbrooke are frustrated. They are paying $200 annually for the HOA to maintain their dilapidated, unusable recreation complex. The video linked below clearly shows peeling paint on the clubhouse, a crumbling tennis court, and ducks in the swimming pool. Homeowners claim the recreation facilities have been unusable for many years.
Quite a few homeowners have stopped paying assessments, most of them are apparently unaware that the HOA has the legal right to file liens on their homes for unpaid assessments.
Natalie Jovonovich of WHIO reports that, in her investigation, it was discovered that more than 50 homes have liens for unpaid assessments, with one lien as high as $7000.
Homeowner Norman Scearce found out his home has a $3400 lien after he purchased a home last year. The previous owner was delinquent on assessments, and now Scearce is stuck with the bill.
Why was this outstanding lien not disclosed prior to purchase? And why wasn’t the Ohio homebuyer informed of his legal liability to assume all outstanding HOA liens?
According to the Westbrooke Homes Association website, there are 310 single family homes in the community, plus a 5.74 acre common area. The website contains very little information available to the public, and requires registration or login for members to access association governing documents.
The home page contains a scrolling announcement regarding assessment collection and renovation efforts underway at Westbrooke. (The message scrolls so fast that you will have a chance to brush up on your speed reading skills.) The amenities page claims that clubhouse renovations are scheduled to be completed no later than June 30, 2016. The tennis court is to be repurposed and the pool is supposed to be renovated, if and when the HOA can collect sufficient assessments.
Under Information and FAQs, the question at the top of the list is “How to report a violation or problem.” But no information about who serves on the board, if there is a manager for Westbrooke, or the name of the attorney sending collection notices.
In other words, it’s about as transparent as mud.
The most shocking part of the WHIO report for me is the ignorant statement made by the (unnamed) HOA Treasurer:
Not long after last week’s report, the HOA sent out an email in response. “The recent WHIO-TV broadcast orchestrated by a delinquent homeowner…will fail in its attempt to stop the collection of delinquent assessments. If you thought you could move here and change our neighborhood to be like the ghetto you came from…think again.” – See more at: m.whio.com/news/news/local/trotwood-hoa-responds-to-liens-worn-facilities/nrNwN/#sthash.3QxXReBQ.dpuf
Equally disturbing is the fact that Trotwood’s Mayor admits “defunct and mismanaged HOAs” are a big problem. However the city has told homeowners that they cannot intervene in disputes related to HOA self-governance. The only option is to file a lawsuit in civil court, where the homeowner engages in a protracted and costly David vs. Goliath battle. Even if a homeowner “wins” in court, it can end up costing thousands of dollars in legal fees.
Of course, it is typical for local municipalities and agencies to take a “hands off” approach with HOA complaints, despite the fact that HOA members pay their full share of property, income, and wage taxes just like owners of homes that do not have HOAs.
Generally, city officials don’t intervene, even if homeowners are paying hundreds or thousands of dollars for crappy amenities, with no accounting for how their money is being spent. That’s abundantly clear from this video.
Trotwood HOA responds to liens, worn facilities (WHIO-TV VIDEO)