By Deborah Goonan, Independent American Communities
“If you don’t like it, then MOVE!”
How many residents of homeowners, condominium, or cooperative associations have heard those words?
If you read any comment thread following a report of HOA horrors, Condo chaos, or disputes over restrictive covenants, you will find at least one person using that four-letter-word. Just MOVE!
The underlying message: do things our way, or take the highway outta here!
Just like elementary school?
Seriously, life in an HOA reminds me of when I was a kid in elementary school.
I had a childhood playmate who lived nearby. Let’s call her Patty. Patty used to come over to my house often, but she would always be the one to decide what we’d do together – should we ride bikes? play on the swing set? play Candy Land?
After a while, I wanted to choose for myself. Can’t we play something we both enjoy, Patty? But when I’d suggest a different activity, Patty would reject it. Then she’d say, for instance, “if you don’t play on the swings with me, then I won’t be your friend.”
Not all that different from the HOA conformity mantra, “if you don’t like it, MOVE!”
Well, not wanting to be friendless, I went along with this manipulative ploy for a little while. But one day, I just got sick of it.
So, at the ripe old age of six, I told her, “If you don’t want to be my friend anymore, that’s OK with me.” She went home, and that was the end of a one-sided relationship.
If only escaping HOA conflict were just as simple.
If you’re stressed out living in your HOA, why don’t you move?
People who have never been in the crosshairs of their HOA, or who have never had to deal with a totally dysfunctional community, often ask this question.
The truth is, when life becomes too uncomfortable, too expensive, too annoying under HOA governance, many people do move out of their Association Governed residential community. Many of them vow never to move into another HOA.
In some planned communities and condo associations, if you monitor sale patterns, you’ll notice quite a few sellers purchased their homes just 2-4 years earlier.
But for some people, moving is just not an option – at least not immediately.
For one thing, there are still millions of homeowners with “negative equity,” meaning that they owe more on the mortgage than what their home is worth in today’s market. Very few people can afford to take that kind of financial hit, no matter how badly they would like to move.
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But there are many other reasons why moving can be difficult.
Let’s face, financial matters aside, moving can be a daunting task. It’s expensive and stressful. It can be difficult to find suitable replacement housing, especially for households with limited income, or that require special accommodations for disability. Retired homeowners – especially over the age of 70 – tend to stay put due to health limitations, especially those without nearby family members to assist. Families must also consider whether it’s worth uprooting their children from school or relocating far away from extended family members. Working adults need to consider how moving to a new location would affect their daily commute.
Many of these obstacles can be overcome, but certainly not overnight and not without hardship. That’s why making a move will be a homeowner’s last resort.
Sometimes a homeowner or even a tenant can find themselves stuck in a house or condo plagued by various defects over which they have no control: a basement that floods every time it rains; a cracked foundation; a broken elevator in a high rise, chronic infestation of mold or insects, toxic substances such as Chinese drywall.
Of course, these defects must be disclosed to potential buyers. Most will walk away from making an offer.
If an Association is in financial distress, and has issued costly assessment increases or special assessments, there will be few willing buyers. Ditto for the Association that has neglected maintenance tasks for several years, obviously showing its age.
See? It’s really not a simple matter to MOVE.
And it’s a damn shame that so many HOA residents are eventually forced to do so, for various reasons.
In their own words
But don’t just take my word for it. Read below for explanations from actual HOA residents.
Neil Brooks, former HOA homeowner in Fort Collins, Colorado
Neil and his wife had a neighborhood nuisance issue with dogs barking next door. When they were unable to communicate or mediate with the neighbors to resolve the issue, Neil asked the HOA to intervene. But the HOA chose not to enforce their own nuisance provisions. Neil sued his neighbors and the HOA. While Neil and the neighbors were able to settle out of court, a judge dismissed the HOA lawsuit, citing case law that gives HOA Boards wide discretion over if and when they must enforce restrictive covenants. By that time, however, the entire neighborhood had labeled him a trouble maker, and put enormous pressure on Neil and his wife to move.
In my case, my health began to deteriorate almost immediately, our house had lost about $100k in value the day we moved in (early 2009 — the peak of the housing crash), and — maybe most importantly — we didn’t have the estimable benefit of hindsight. And all of that ignores the myriad custom things we did in the construction of our house specifically designed to help my health and ‘accommodate’ my disability.
In addition, my wife and I are not the kind of people who would choose not to disclose a material fact — in our case, a nuisance barking situation — defrauding a potential buyer, and just dumping our house on them.
I think it’s nothing more or less than victim blaming. It’s your own fault for buying a house in an HOA-controlled community in the first place.
Naomi McMillan, Florida homeowner
Naomi’s dispute with her HOA started with her installation of a trellis in her back yard. The HOA has fined her for having an “unauthorized fence.” When she did not simply pay the fine without argument, the HOA dug in its heels. Litigation is pending.
I have not moved because the schools are good. I love my view. I love the wildlife. The cost. We need a four bedroom house. There are few options for a house outside of a HOA without having a home built. We would not be able to get a loan to build a house without first selling, moving, and renting.
Nila Ridings, townhouse owner in Overland Park, Kansas
Nila has been involved in litigation with her HOA for more than 5 years, with no end in sight. In addition to rotten siding that needed to be replaced, the HOA has dragged their feet on replacing a dilapidated fence, and repairing the driveway that settled and caused flooding damage in her finished basement. Although she has placed her assessment payments in escrow, pending the outcome of her current lawsuit, the HOA has now filed a lien for foreclosure on her home.
My townhouse has not been salable since the day I bought it. Severely rotting siding caused the electric meters to fall off the house and cause massive damage to the interior. That resulted in a lawsuit that lasted for three years when I filed a counterclaim against the HOA when they sued me for not paying my dues. I refused to pay dues when they breached their contract with me that resulted in me suffering a major financial expense to repair my house and replace damaged goods. My homeowners insurance would not pay one penny because they claimed even though the HOA is responsible to maintain the exterior siding, if they failed to do so, I am responsible.
I have not been able to sell and MOVE because the title on my house has been clouded with these liens filed by the HOA. To sell and get out my loss will be over $200,000 due to the money I have spent on the house to keep it standing and the money I spent when I purchased it to remodel and add features that I wanted for the rest of my life. I did not plan to sell the house but I plan to once this lawsuit is over. I do not want to live in this HOA or any other HOA for the rest of my life. I paid cash so the option of letting the place go back to the mortgage company is off the table.
Donna Simpson Kayden, Poinciana, Florida homeowner
Donna lives in one of the largest HOAs in the country, Association of Poinciana Villages. The sprawling community has been through hard times following the real estate crash and prolonged recession. Owners and residents are divided over who should control the HOA board, who should manage the Association, and whether or not the community of more than 50,000 people should incorporate and become a city in its own right. Last year, Poinciana’s current management company placed assessment delinquency accounts in the hands of First 100, a collections firm that has been involved in several lawsuits with other HOAs and real estate investors.
This is not the first HOA I have lived in, while living in my past HOA that was run by the homeowners versus an HOA that after 40 years is still run by a developer…I have not moved out as of yet, but waiting like many other families on that last child to finish high school. I see a completely dysfunctional community…This HOA does not engage the homeowners to be involved whatsoever. Another issue is this – do I as an individual have the moral obligation to right the wrong?
Andrea Barnes, Tennessee homeowner
The Barnes family has been repeatedly threatened with lawsuits if they do not move their trash container “out of view” from street, an invalid rule that they and their attorney note were created without 75% approval by the homeowners as required by the contract. Despite the rule, the Barnes were previously concealing their container in a manner unacceptable to the HOA. The HOA has previously filed suit against another homeowner regarding their container, which ended in an agreed order of dismissal wherein the homeowners were asked to pay some $3,500 by the HOA regarding their “in view” trash can. The validity of the rule itself was never challenged.
Mrs. Barnes has a disability wherein she needs light and level ground to facilitate her daily routines, including her routine with the trash container.
According to Mrs. Barnes, the family would prefer to avoid an HOA on the next purchase, but options are limited.
On numerous occasions, we have searched the local real estate databases to turn up 2-3 properties available outside of an HOA. More homes outside of HOAs are available at a cost of a million and up.
“Moving out” is a suggestion that is frivolously thrown around by property managers, board members or neighbors as if it’s a conclusive solution to a problem that the homeowner never sought out or provoked in the first place. The wide void between merely thinking of moving out and the following through is huge.
And here’s an eye-opening video interview of some condo residents in Florida.
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