By Deborah Goonan, Independent American Communities
Fences make good neighbors, right?
Well, not if you live in Shalimar Terrace, a Nampa, Idaho neighborhood governed by a homeowners association.
KTVB reports that homeowners Eric and Bekah Graves have decided to settle a year-long dispute over their black ornamental fence. As part of the agreement, the Graveses will remove the fence before they move out of the neighborhood next May.
The gist of the report comes as no surprise to many current and former homeowners across the country, all of whom have had their own run-ins with their HOAs.
Nampa homeowners share their story after ugly HOA fight
Joe Parris, KTVB
10:42 AM. MST November 07, 2017
NAMPA – It has been the center of attention in a Nampa neighborhood for over a year, but the days of a black wrought-iron fence will soon be coming to an end.
“The lawsuit has been settled, we are selling our home, and moving to a new subdivision, the fence is coming down,” said Nampa homeowner Bekah Graves.
Bekah and her husband, Eric, have spent hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars battling the Shalimar Terrace homeowners association for the right to keep their powder-coated black ornamental steel fence around their property.
“It got to the point that financially, and emotionally, we just couldn’t do it anymore,” said Bekah Graves.
Read more (video):
We need more media coverage of these bitter HOA disputes over trivial rules and standards, exposing the true nature of HOAs to housing consumers.
Bekah and Eric Graves had asked for permission to install a fence, filing a written request to the board. But the HOA failed to respond to their request. After several weeks, the homeowners decided to go ahead with the installation.
Members of the HOA board apparently watched the fence go up, then decided to cite the homeowners for violating the rules after the fact.
Bekah and Eric were certain that they had an iron-clad defense in their case. After all, several other homes in the community have fences of all types. No one seems to be enforcing the rules for those homeowners.
But, as this story illustrates, covenants, restrictions, rules, and architectural standards may be selectively enforced, but that does not make them invalid.
Unfortunately, CC&Rs are more or less “iron clad” by state law.
If one of your neighbors makes a stink, or if the HOA board President does not like you, the rule will suddenly be enforced against your family.
And once that happens, prepare to either tear out the expensive improvements you have just paid for, or else fork over thousands of dollars in fines and legal fees when the dispute ends up mired in civil courts.
(I have often wondered, why is it called “civil” court? Most legal disputes are anything but civil.)
It’s a story I have heard or read about dozens, if not hundreds of times.
Bekah is right: HOA disputes such as this are not about the rules. They boil down to power struggles. And the reality is, the lion’s share of power, and the money to fight it out in court, is in the hands of the HOA.
Most of the time, homeowners cannot afford to sacrifice hard-earned money, as well as their personal well-being, to allow a legal battle to drag on for years, in hopes of winning the case.
Criminal defense attorney David Leroy points out that, in an HOA, all of the neighbors are supposed to participate in governance of the community. But the reality is that, more often than not, homeowners cannot count on the HOA to operate with fairness and transparency. Keeping a power-hungry board under control is nearly impossible, given the broad power granted to HOAs by state laws.
Bekah Graves hopes that, in the future, entire communities of neighbors will come together and hold their HOA boards accountable.
I cannot tell you how many times I have heard this wish, this call to action, from homeowners embroiled in a dispute with their HOA.
Unfortunately, most homeowners will not fight back or get involved in someone else’s HOA business, fearing that being outspoken will just make them the next target for an HOA bully on the board.
The stakes are much too high – your HOA can drag you to court, drain your bank accounts, force you to go into debt, and literally take your home away by foreclosure if you fail to obey the rules.
It’s certainly not fair or democratic.
In truth, HOA tactics would be more accurately described as manipulation, intimidation, or even extortion. As many homeowners have discovered, HOA legal abuse clogs up civil courts, and amounts to nothing short of white-collar thuggery.
Can’t you just feel the neighborly love?