Too often, local governments refuse to help taxpayers in condo, HOA communities

By Deborah Goonan, Independent American Communities


Millions of Americans own homes or reside in communities with private infrastructure and amenities.

To be more precise, “private” property of a homeowners, condominium, or cooperative association is actually communal property, that, theoretically, benefits only the members of one particular residential community or neighborhood.

For more than 40 years, city and county governments have approved more than 300,000 new housing developments with mandatory community associations. The underlying political agenda: all new development pays for itself, with almost no up front cost to local government.

But what happens when reality doesn’t align with expectations? What happens when homeowners discover they’re stuck with crumbling infrastructure and no way to pay for repairs?

Quite often, community members are left on their own, without any help at all from city or county government.

Several examples follow in today’s post.


Across the U.S., developers and co-investors poured trillions of dollars into new land development, planned subdivisions, and multifamily housing. Future homeowners rewarded real estate stakeholders handsomely, with substantial sales revenue from new home sales.

But, in addition to paying billions of dollars in property taxes to local governments, property owners also obligated themselves to pay all of their own private community maintenance and service costs in the future. Thus, members of association-governed communities are doubly taxed for both public and private services. With rare exception, home and apartment owners are not compensated for duplication of services with property tax reduction, even though they typically receive fewer services from their city and county governments.

But when things go wrong, and taxpayers in association-governed communities need help, they are often turned away by their city and county leaders. Why? Because elected officials are afraid that if they assist one private community, then dozens or hundreds of other private communities will expect more of the same. 


No taxtion without representation

Wheeling won’t use tax dollars to help condo owners make repairs

Chacour Koop, Daily Herald
8/23/2018 4:10 PM

Wheeling officials have rejected a request by condominium owners for about $200,000 in taxpayer dollars to complete major repairs at their complex.

Cameo North Annex Association members asked for tax increment financing assistance — money that’s earmarked for economic development projects and improvements — to repair balconies at the 51-unit complex at 200 Deborah Lane.

The failing balconies are causing water leaks, cracked ceilings and other infrastructure problems. Additionally, the space between balcony railings it too wide and out of compliance with safety rules intended to keep children from falling through. Estimated costs for the project are between $268,000 and $700,000, depending on the extent of upgrades.

The village board unanimously rejected the request. Trustees Ray Lang and Ken Brady were absent.

In a TIF district, tax revenue generated by new development in the area is diverted to a fund used to pay for additional improvements through public or private projects. Village staff members recommended against using these funds because the project won’t generate additional tax revenue nor improve the aesthetics of the property.

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Montmorency board rejects Twin Lakes canal dredging

AUG 23, 2018

News Staff Writer

ATLANTA — The Montmorency Board of Commissioners on Wednesday shot down a proposal to distribute funds for the Westwind Homeowners Association that would have helped pay for sand dredging in the Twin Lakes canal.

Board member Dave Wagner proposed the motion for the property owners after they received an invoice in excess of $16,000 for dredging that needs to be done on either end of the canal, which Wagner said is impassable.

Work is expected to start in the next few weeks.

The homeowners association, which is comprised of about 38 residents, was hoping to get a 50 percent match on the bill after paying a $7,000 deposit.

Treasurer Jean Klein made it clear that she did not feel it was in the best interest of the board to give the property owners association money, as it would set a precedent for other homeowners to come forward and ask for money that is not necessarily a financial responsibility for the county.

“I honestly wouldn’t feel good about doing this,” Jean said. “This is a luxury item, for luxury homes.”

The motion was shot down with only one ‘yes,’ from Wagner.

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Most of the time,  homeowners are well aware that they share ownerhip of common property — such as a recreational lake or a private park — but sometimes property owners don’t discover their unfunded community liabilities until they begin to complain to local government about damage following a natural disaster, or deterioration following many years of deferred maintenance.

Nearly all communities built in the past four decades have privately owned and managed storm water management infrastructure. But most homeowners buy into new subdivisions or multifamily neighborhoods without any awareness that they and their neighbors will have to pay for ongoing maintenance and future repair of drainage swales, underground storm water pipes, retention ponds, catch basins, canals, and any other structure meant to collect or divert water away from roads, driveways, and homes in the community. 

And when an owners’ association fails to adequately manage its infrastructure, flooding, erosion, and property damage often result. And since most association-governed communities don’t set aside a substantial reserve fund for storm water management, there’s no way to pay for repairs when needed, without taking on debt — either in the form of a community association loan, a special assessment, or a tax assessment. 

Flood creek

Erosion issues still plague Pasco neighborhood

Fix could be close

Erik Waxler, WFTS ABC Action News 6
8:03 PM, Aug 30, 2018
8:14 PM, Aug 30, 2018

LAND O’ LAKES, Fla. — Since we went behind Jeff Cole’s home more than a year ago, he says things have only gotten worse.

A Pasco County engineer was checking out the ditch Thursday afternoon.

Meanwhile, there are pending lawsuits between residents, the HOA, and the county.

But the HOA’s attorney says a settlement with the county could be close.

That settlement would involve an assessment for those in this subdivision to pay for repairs to the ditch and drainage easement.

But Cole says people here shouldn’t be on the hook to pay for what he calls flaws with the design and infrastructure.

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Bad roads erosion
A road in need of repair and repaving. (

The vast majority of home buyers see life on a private road as a desirable luxury. But they often don’t realize the cost and inconveniences until after they’ve moved into their homes.

Even worse, sometimes poor or nonexistent local planning creates a neighborhood with a private road that the City or County won’t accept, but for which a homeowners’ association was never organized. 

Quite often, the local government refuses to take on unfinished or poorly constructed roads.  By default, homeowners end up with private neighborhood property, with no way to legally finance future maintenance or replacement.

Keeping it Private: Homeowners Struggle With Life on NYC’s Private Streets

So-called exclusive streets that are owned by residents live in a state of limbo as far as the city is concerned…even if they’re gorgeous


Twice a week, 71-year-old Douglaston, Queens, resident Peggy Kalesis packs her trash-filled garbage cans into the back of her SUV and drives half a block from her home.

She and her dozen Stuart Lane neighbors drop their trash in front of an understanding Depew Avenue resident’s home because Stuart Lane is one of the nearly 1,000 private streets across the five boroughs that doesn’t get its garbage picked up by the city.

“It’s horrible,” Kalesis said. “We do pay taxes. We feel like we’re not getting city services.”

Private streets are owned, and tended to, by residents, homeowners associations (HOAs) or co-op boards. While they show up on Google Maps, they aren’t on the official city map so agencies won’t collect trash, remove snow, pave roads, repair street lights, fix sewer lines and more. Some have even caused issues for 911 dispatchers.

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Keeping It Private: Homeowners Struggle With Life on NYC’s Private Streets

Life on a private manmade lake can be heaven, or it can be hell. 

For most homeowners, the dam that controls the water level in their community lake is an invisible liability. They don’t think about its function until it fails. 

At the same time, decades of upstream development created the need for cities to divert huge volumes storm water into private lakes. But then the dams failed, leaving dry lakebeds.

Now the city says it can’t use public tax dollars to build a dam to restore private lakes. But they’re still dumping stormwater into the now empty basins. 

Scars of Hurricane Matthew linger in empty lakebeds

By John Henderson, Staff writer
Posted Sep 8, 2018 at 9:23 PM
Updated Sep 8, 2018 at 10:15 PM

Nearly two years after floods destroyed neighborhood dams, homeowners remain mired in a fight with the city.

John C. Lee remembers the first time he and his wife saw the scenic 70-acre lake in the Devonwood/Loch Lomond neighborhood a couple of years ago as they were house shopping.

“This is what we bought it for when we came here. We were just like, ‘It’s our dream home,’” he said.

Today, the former lake is an overgrown pit infested with rodents, reeking from pungent drainage streams and lined with docks to nowhere. It has been this way for nearly two years, since Hurricane Matthew unexpectedly dumped more than a foot of rain and destroyed the decades-old earthen dam.

The drained lake, and at least 10 others in neighborhoods across Fayetteville, remain the most visible scars of Matthew’s disastrous flooding some 11 months later. And as yet another hurricane season revs up, with a potential hit from Hurricane Florence on the horizon this week, there is still no resolution in sight for the hundreds of homeowners here and in other subdivision whose backyard views look like barren wastelands. They complain of declining property values, but also a less tangible yet equally important loss of the sense of community that they say the lakes created by bringing neighbors together.

“In the middle of the day there will be a foul smell,” said Lee, who belongs to the homeowners association. “Right now, this has created rodents, wolf rats, snakes. We’ve created a lot of environmental problems. I’ve got pictures showing fish we had in the lake — four-foot koi fish that lived in this pond. We had endangered species turtles. We had white cranes. There was an albino crane that lived here. We had geese.”

A federal lawsuit filed by homeowners in four subdivisions to force the city to repair their dams is still in its early stages. The city says it cannot spend public money to repair private neighborhood dams that aren’t spanned by city roads, or whose lakes don’t serve some other public purpose. The city is moving forward with plans to rebuild dams that have city roads, such as the Mirror Lake dam in VanStory Hills, but city leaders say their hands are tied when it comes to the dams in Lee’s neighborhood, as well as those in Arran Lakes, Strickland Bridge and Rayconda — the subdivisions whose homeowners’ associations are suing.

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