By Deborah Goonan, Independent American Communities
Like many mature subdivisions, County Line Estates, located in Grimes and Waller Counties of Texas, has a road that is in terrible condition. The road and homes were constructed in the 1990s, but there is confusion about who is responsible for maintenance of Brittany Lane. The subdivision spans two Counties, but both insist the road is private, not public.
One resident of County Line Estates, Rhonda Edwards, has been searching official records to find out who actually owns the roads and whether or not the roads were intended to be maintained by the Counties or a homeowners’ association. So far, there’s no evidence to indicate a mandatory HOA.
(This situation is similar to another example I shared last week, regarding Golden Hills subdivision in Greene County, Virginia. The County insists the roads are private, even though homeowners have provided documented evidence that their roads were intended for public use and maintenance.)
But here’s the twist to this story: Edwards is looking into the possibility of creating an HOA to help fund future maintenance of the roads.
But why would homeowners willingly agree to create a homeowners’ association, especially since they are already paying property taxes to two Counties?
County approved road that was never up to required standard
Think about it — the Counties evidently approved this inferior road 20-25 years ago. The Counties could have required the developer to build the road to their “County” standards, but they didn’t. Why not?
Certainly, the developer had lower construction costs and therefore was able to either sell the properties at a lower price or reap a higher profit.
Why would either County government care how much this road was going to cost future owners to maintain as a “private” road if county employees or contractors were never going to be obligated to do the work of maintaining it?
This is the standard HOA bait-and-switch scam. Homeowners get to pay the same tax rate as everyone else, even though the local government is able to get away with providing a lower level of service to homeowners in HOAs.
But, in this case, the evidence that an HOA exists is murky at best. Given the prevalence of HOAs in the state of Texas, County officials might have assumed that County Line Estates was intended to have an active HOA. But unless a mandatory association was created and documented on property deeds, somebody dropped the ball back in the planning stages.
At this point, if there is no documented evidence of a mandatory HOA, it would be foolish for Edwards and her neighbors to voluntarily create one, adding another layer of governance and control over their private properties.
Subdivision looks to raise funds, find answers
The subdivision was originally built by developer Darrell Hall in the 1990s, but residents say that they are having trouble locating documents that clearly show who is responsible for road maintenance in County Line Estates. Resident Rhonda Edwards is spearheading a movement to find answers for her neighbors and raise funds for road improvements.
[Resident Rhonda] Edwards has also begun organizing her neighbors in an attempt to formulate a homeowners association that could directly address the road and other community maintenance issues. As of this time, it is unclear whether the development originally had an HOA or a system of covenants and regulations when construction began.
Edwards is asking the community to provide input on the formulation of an HOA to pursue grant funding for the sole purpose of improving the roads throughout County Line Estates.
Added Costs with HOA
Looking at Brittany Lane in Grimes County, Texas, on Google Maps, it appears this is a rural road with relatively few properties. However, Grimes County had a population of nearly 27,000 as of the 2010 Census.
Although Edwards has good intentions of raising funds to repair the road in County Line Estates, there aren’t enough custom Lego artwork pieces in all of Texas to raise that kind of money. On the other hand, the incremental cost per taxpayer in Grimes County (and Waller County if this were to be a shared cost) would be minor by comparison.
A County has better access to heavy equipment and contractors to do heavy road construction and maintenance, and they can add Brittany Road to a work order including other roads nearby. Even if homes in County Line Estates need to be reassessed to cover the cost of service, it’s likely to be far less costly than a few homeowners attempting to raise funds themselves — if they could even find a contractor willing to do the job for them.
Of course, Edwards won’t be able to create a homeowners’ association out of thin air – if one does not already exist – without unanimous approval of property owners. Given a negative public perception of HOAs, and the added cost involved for homeowners, Edwards’ neighbors might just say “no, thanks!”