By Deborah Goonan, Independent American Communities
By now, it’s common knowledge that homeowners,’ condo, and cooperative associations can be very strict about enforcing their covenants. And some of the rules enacted by HOA boards are downright unreasonable and crazy.
But enforcing onerous rules is more than a mere annoyance for many homeowners and residents.
Allow me to illustrate by example.
Veteran forced to sell home at a loss, because he dared to challenge the HOA’s rules against his small flag in a flowerpot
As explained in this Washington Post article, and about dozen other reports, Larry Murphree’s seven-year long battle with Tides Condo Association at Sweetwater (a del Webb retirement community in Jacksonville) began when the retired Air Force Veteran displayed a tiny American flag in a flower pot on the front porch of his condominium home.
A number of factors create legal rights for the HOA to enforce rules against this modest display of patriotism, despite a Federal law that prohibits HOAs from denying residents the right to display the American Flag.
The Freedom to Display the American Flag Act of 2005 contains a legal loophole, added to the original draft of the bill through the efforts of lobbyists for the community associations management industry. That loophole allows association-governed communities to dictate how, when, and where a resident can display an American flag. So an HOA can enact rules specifying the size and number of flags that can be displayed, and whether or not the flag can be displayed on a flagpole, mounted on a porch post, or hung on the porch or balcony railing.
In the case of the Tides at Sweetwater, Murphree challenged the HOA’s flag restrictions in court. He “won” in an out-of-court settlement in 2012, a judge ruling he could keep his flag display.
But then the condo association board decided to enact new rules about display of flowerpots. Those rules prohibited “unauthorized objects” other than the flowering plants. Thus, the condo association reasoned, they were not prohibiting the American flag, they were merely promoting harmonious displays of flower pots near the front entry of every look-alike condo townhouse in the community.
And the condo association believed they’d get away with imposing $100 per day fines against Murphree, mainly because the front stoops of each home are limited common areas. That’s a fancy legal term that means that the condo owner doesn’t actually own anything beyond the front or back door, so the condo association gets to tell owners and residents what they can and cannot display in any space that might be remotely visible to other residents or the public.
After the HOA racked up more than a thousand dollars in fines, the management company began applying Murphree’s automated assessment payments to pay off the fines. That created an assessment delinquency, with late fees and interest charges. By the time Murphree realized what was happening, the matter was turned over to the HOA attorney, who promptly placed a lien on the condominium unit, plus legal fees, of course.
According to Murphree on an interview On the Commons with Shu Bartholomew, the courts “threw out” every complaint the HOA filed against him. However, Murphree paid hundreds of thousands in legal fees to defend his rights over the past seven years, and was forced to sell his condo, at a loss, in 2015, just to avoid foreclosure, and to escape the stress and neighborhood hostility he faced daily.
Murphree says he regrets that so much of his time and money has been wasted on years of litigation, rather than spending time with his grandchildren.
Murphree is suing his former HOA for $1 million in an effort to recover his losses, including mounting legal fees. A court date is scheduled for July 2019.
Florida homeowner suffers heart attack while trying to avoid fines from HOA
In another example of the toll of HOA stress, the Tampa Bay Times reports that homeowner Gene Work was intent on laying new sod in his yard before his homeowners’ association’s deadline, and threat of a large fine.
While he toiled in the heat and humidity, Work began to feel ill. He went inside and collapsed on their living room sofa. Melissa called 911, and EMT rushed her husband to the hospital.
It turns out, Work had a heart attack, and required emergency treatment.
The article also notes that Work had to pawn some of his personal belongings to pay for the sod. You see, his wife, Melissa, is scheduled to have a bone marrow transplant in a few weeks. Obviously, this family has other priorities and substantial medical expenses.
But apparently that didn’t matter to their HOA.
Fortunately, Gene Work survived his heart attack, and is recovering well. He and his wife, Melissa, maintain their positive spirit.
In an act of kindness, while Work was in the hospital, EMT workers returned to his home to help Work’s brother lay down the sod — they reportedly knocked out the job in less than an hour.
Just goes to show you that, if HOAs really cared about promoting a sense of community, they would organize neighborhood help groups, rather than taking the authoritarian approach of threatening homeowners with fines.
Even better for the Work family, the landscape materials supplier chose to donate the $900 worth of sod used to complete the lawn at Work’s home. (See video below)
In this case, people who did not even live in their community stepped up to help the Works. But in most cases, nobody intervenes to help a homeowner in the crosshairs of the HOA.
The important point is that the stress of living up to HOA rules and expectations is taking a huge toll on the health and financial well-being of Americans.
Today I highlight just two examples. But I hear from dozens of homeowners every week. They tell me their HOAs regularly enforce nit-picky rules, and sometimes target a homeowner as a personal vendetta.
That kind of stress makes life much more difficult for any HOA resident. HOA living is certainly not always pleasant or utopian, as advertised by real estate developers and community association management industry trade groups.