By Deborah Goonan, Independent American Communities
How did we get to HOA (homeowners association) hell?
To answer that question, today I want to call the reader’s attention to a few highlights from the lead story in Kansas City Star’s HOAs from hell: Homes associations torment residents they’re supposed to support (by Judy Thomas)
Local Governments as HOA enablers
First, we have a statement made by a city director of planning and codes, as to why there are over 342,000 HOAs nationwide, despite the fact that quite a large segment of the market doesn’t really want to own or reside in Association Governed Housing. (emphasis added)
Robert McKay, Lee’s Summit director of planning and codes, said handing over some power to HOAs eases the burden on local government.
“We have a lot of code enforcement that we do,” McKay said. “They are kind of our self-policing group, so we like them. We would rather have the subdivisions regulating themselves than the city having to come down on them.”
The city has no problem with an HOA that is more restrictive than the city, he said.
“Of course,” McKay said, “we can’t deal with the resident that says, ‘Well, they’re being overrestrictive,’ because you bought into the situation.”
To paraphrase: local government has basically granted police powers to private citizens, to enforce restrictions that have not been subject to government review or approval. Even if homeowners complain that some of those restrictions are oppressive, or that that they violate civil liberties, that’s OK with the local government because, after all, residents have “bought into the situation.”
In other words, dear readers, our government has enabled HOA hell, because it makes their jobs easier.
Community Association Institute (CAI) supports authoritarian governance model
Now let’s take a look at the words of one of CAI’s original founders, Lincoln Cummings, on the topic of the HOA’s right to foreclose on your home, should you fall behind on your assessments, commonly referred to as “dues.” (emphasis added)
Lincoln Cummings, a co-founder and former president of the CAI, defended the tactic of foreclosing when a homeowner becomes delinquent on HOA dues.
Yes, it’s harsh, he said, but that is a way to make an example of the worst offenders.
“Unless you put up on the flagpole once in a while the real violators, you will have more violators,” he said. “And I preach for almost every association. Find the worst. Foreclose. And then for five years you won’t have anybody that misses a payment.”
Wow. According to one of the founding members of CAI, it’s critically important that HOAs harshly punish violators as a way to deter others from missing a payment or otherwise going astray.
According to Cummings, board leaders of Association Governed Housing are encouraged to go ahead and foreclose on someone’s home for delinquent assessments – or even disputed fines that have turned into assessments. And apparently, Cummings has no qualms about taking someone’s home for debt amounting to less than 1 to 2% of the property’s value.
In HOA hell we see just a few examples of homeowners who lost their homes when the HOA sold them at foreclosure auction for a mere fraction of market value, all to recover a few hundred dollars in assessments for the HOA. (And, no doubt, thousands of dollars in fees for the HOA attorney). You can find other examples on this blog.
In short, the punishment is often way out of proportion with the violation. In fact, many HOA policies are a blatant display of authoritarian governance, according to the following comparison of democratic and authoritarian regimes, written by the Independence Hall Association.
Perhaps that’s why so many commenters that follow HOA hell and similar articles refer to HOA leaders as “dictators,” “fascists,” and “Nazis.”
Who willingly and knowingly chooses to live under this kind of rule?
The truth is, no one ‘buys in’ expecting their HOA leaders to get so out of control. But, with an enabling environment, almost no oversight, and no meaningful accountability, all too often they do.