By Deborah Goonan, Independent American Communities
Few homeowners know what to expect when they buy into a planned community governed by a homeowners association.
After all, home builders and real estate agents sell buyers on modern, attractive features of the home, pristine-looking landscapes, and neighborhood bling. You know, the sparkling community swimming pool, peaceful-looking nature trails, recreation centers, club houses, and, in some cases, dozens of planned social activities.
Sales agents avoid serious talk about the money, other than to say that your “dues” or “fees” will cover maintenance of common areas and amenities.
If you’re looking for a lower-priced townhouse or condo, the sales agent will boast about a maintenance-free, lock and leave lifestyle. For a fee, someone else will mow the lawn, trim the hedges, shovel snow, and maintain the exterior of your home, so you don’t have to.
And it all sounds great — the American Dream come true, right?
But…after you move in, it may not be all unicorns and rainbows.
Reality sets in
Here’s a classic example of how the HOA bubble bursts.
I’ve been following the story of Lincolnshire HOA, in Johnson County, Kansas. It’s a 1980s-construction, 33-unit townhouse community spread out over 10 buildings.
According reports by Judy L. Thomas of the Kansas City Star, the saga began last year, when the HOA ousted their former board President and his partner, the property manager. At the time, there were allegations of mismanagement of funds, and a complete lack of transparency.
A new board was elected. Not long afterward, board president, Ellen Hoerle, blindsided HOA members with a proposed $6,500 special assessment to replace the roofs, gutters and chimney caps on every unit in the development.
The demand for thousands of dollars didn’t go over well with homeowners, many of whom live on moderate or fixed incomes. That led a majority of homeowners to stage a recall attempt.
But Hoerle reportedly says that many of the homeowners who voted for her recall are not qualified to vote, because they are behind on their monthly HOA payments.
So she refuses to step down.
Where’s the money?
As is typical of many common interest communities, members do not pay close attention to HOA finances until a crisis hits. In this case, suspicions of mismanagement led to ousting the former board President and property manager.
Now that there’s new blood on the board, homeowners are paying close attention to how their money is spent. But most are highly suspicious of Hoerle’s motives.
Hoerle lives in Minnesota. She purchased her townhouse for her daughter, who is attending medical school nearby. Based upon reports, Hoerle also has an abrasive leadership style. Apparently, she knows best, and anyone who complains about the board’s decisions or actions is ‘toxic.’
Angry about Hoerle’s refusal to step down after a recall, several homeowners tried to freeze the HOA’s bank accounts. Not wanting to be caught in the middle of a bitter political dispute, the bank ordered the HOA to close their account and take their money elsewhere.
But Hoerle isn’t saying where the money is right now.
As for the proposed special assessment, a split vote by the board voided those plans. But the board insists that repairs still need to be done.
So the board forged ahead, approving just enough money to replace roofs on three townhouse buildings.
No doubt, homeowners have lots of questions
How much money did the HOA get from their insurance claim (for hail damage), and why did the HOA choose to repair roofs on the three buildings where board members own property?
Why doesn’t a $180 per month regular HOA assessment “cover” the cost of replacing all the roofs, especially considering the money the HOA got from the insurance company?
Why won’t the board provide financial records to back up their claims that the HOA needs extra money to make additional repairs?
Why did Hoerle call the local police to its last HOA meeting?
Are the bids the HOA received for roofing, gutters, and chimney caps reasonable?
Why isn’t there an owner-occupancy requirement for board members?
Why aren’t HOAs regulated by state or federal law?
A sinking ship
As Judy Thomas reports, Lincolnshire HOA is in a state of chaos. Their previous HOA manager, attorney, and accountant quit. And no one wants to work for them, because of the HOA’s bad reputation.
HOA professionals have the luxury of being able to walk away from the most dysfunctional communities. But homeowners cannot easily escape the turmoil.
It appears that Hoerle will try to hold onto to her position on the board until June, when her daughter plans to graduate. Then she’ll probaly sell her home and abandon this sinking ship.
Several angry homeowners continue to fight for power. And they’re likely to “win” that fight in the coming months. But how much damage is already done to the community?
Not just the finances and the physical structure, but the social fabric of the community?
Without mutual trust and a willingness to compromise, homeowners may never agree on payment for thousands of dollars in repairs. The most likely outcome will be indecision and inaction.
Which means residents of 7 buildings will probably be putting up with leaky roofs for a very long time.
JoCo HOA in turmoil: President summons police to meeting, calls ‘new’ board a ‘cabal’
BY JUDY L. THOMAS
FEBRUARY 25, 2019
Police summoned to handle a disturbance. Allegations of fraud and corruption. An attempted coup to overthrow the president.
Unrest in a Third World country?
Not even close. More like a Johnson County HOA.
“It’s just toxic,” said Ellen Hoerle, president of the Lincolnshire Homeowners Association board, which oversees the community near Interstate 35 and Lamar Avenue in Mission. “These people refuse to accept reality.
“I’m sorry, but they have absolutely no business being homeowners, or being homeowners in an association like this.”
Many of the homeowners argue that it’s Hoerle who’s the problem, a bully who doesn’t listen to residents and is trying to force them to spend way too much for repairs on their units. In January, a group of them convened a special meeting and voted to oust her and most of the board members, but Hoerle said the move was invalid because they didn’t follow the HOA bylaws. Now, they say, they’ve got more than enough votes to remove her and plan to take action soon.
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