By Deborah Goonan, Independent American Communities
Several months ago, I told you about the plight of Joe and Jill Nixon of Weston Lakes, in Fulshear, Texas. According to a new report by Dolcefino Consulting, nearly two-thirds of Nixon’s 1.6 acre property has now slipped into a deep ravine, due to severe erosion and poor storm water drainage.
To date, Weston Lakes HOA has not done a thing to stop their drainage channel from eating away at the Nixons’ back yard — or the lots of other nearby homes.
Instead of taking responsibility for the community’s storm drainage facility, the HOA has decided to spend $400,000 fighting against the homeowners in court.
Can you believe it?
Check out the video for details.
Hiding the truth from home buyers?
Did you catch the part where, years ago, Fort Bend County told the subdivision’s developer that the natural channel behind the Nixons’ home would not effectively drain storm water? And then the County insisted that Weston Lakes HOA take responsibility for maintenance of all storm drainage facilities, including the natural ravine.
So it certainly appears that the HOA knew about their community’s storm drainage deficiencies long before the Nixons purchased their dream retirement house several years ago.
But nobody told Joe and Jill Nixon that the ravine behind their back yard would become a raging torrent in heavy rain. No one mentioned that every time it rains, part of their property would slide into the abyss below, taking trees with it.
Naturally, the Nixons notified Weston Lakes HOA of the problem. Multiple times. To no avail. When the HOA failed to take action, the homeowners were forced to file a lawsuit.
The HOA could have simply bought Nixons home, for what they’ve spent on legal fees so far. But the lawsuit is far from over.
HOA mismanagement is common
Unfortunately, the Nixons’ HOA horror story is not unique. For a variety of reasons, it’s not uncommon for HOAs to shirk their dues to maintain the commonly owned areas and common elements.
First, most board members are volunteers with no knowledge of construction or engineering. Many have no experience managing money or people. Here’s the reality — even a board with good intentions can be completely clueless.
Association boards often rely on “experts” who may or may not be qualified to investigate or solve the HOA’s problems. And if the board doesn’t carefully vet professionals or contractors, homeowners often end up overpaying for poor service.
Sometimes the HOA doesn’t have the money to make repairs or to rebuild faulty construction.
Other times, a few HOA board members want to blame someone else for the HOA’s problem, be it the developer, the local government, a previous contractor, or even the homeowners who have the nerve to complain.
When board members cannot agree on the best course of action, the end result is inaction. But the longer the HOA does nothing, the more the problem continues to fester. The worse the problem gets, the more homeowners complain, leading to more expensive litigation and mounting repair and reconstruction costs.
It’s a vicious cycle.
The ‘disgruntled’ homeowner becomes the scapegoat
While the HOA board and its panel of experts try to figure out how to handle their problems, communication comes to a halt. Typically, most homeowners won’t even know that one or a few of their neighbors are suffering with property damage and nuisances from flooding, erosion, landslide, cracked foundations, leaky roofs, mold, or other serious problems.
The HOA board often prefers to keep these issues a deep, dark secret. And since the HOA controls all internal communications, it’s tempting for the board and management to either say nothing or selectively report facts that downplay the issue.
But when a homeowner goes around the HOA board to reveal the truth, much like the Nixons have done, that’s when things tend to get nasty in the neighborhood.
For some odd reason, the outspoken homeowner who expects the HOA to protect his health, safety, and biggest investment becomes the community scapegoat.
So, fair warning to other unlucky homeowners with non-helpful HOAs: if you dare to go public with your complaints, you will become the villain. You’ll be called a troublemaker. A disgruntled homeowner. A pariah.
You’ll be cast as the Selfish One, because you’ve dared to air your community’s dirty laundry. Some neighbors will hate you, because the bad publicity might make it hard to sell homes, reducing property values.
Ironic, isn’t it? Especially when you stop to consider the selfish behavior of HOA board members and neighbors who don’t want to pay to fix the common property that everyone is supposedly sharing.
If the problem were promptly addressed, instead of ignored, that might actually protect property values!
You can’t fight City Hall… or can you?
When I was growing up, this was a common saying: “You can’t fight City Hall.” After all, the city had the use of taxpayer money to fight against you in court. And lots of political clout.
Of course, in the modern media age, it’s much harder for City Hall — or any level of government — to escape public scrutiny. And it’s nearly impossible to keep secrets. Despite the overwhelming media frenzy of opposing political viewpoints, today’s higher level transparency is a good thing for Americans.
And here’s one thing everyone can agree on — no one wants to see their neighbor get screwed by inept or corrupt government officials.
Think about it.
If the Nixons’ home were not located in an HOA-governed subdivision, and if the County were fully responsible for maintaining storm drainage behind their home, what would be different?
For starters, it’s likely that the drainage channel would have been designed and built to better handle high volumes of water.
Likewise, it’s unlikely that the County would have issued construction permits for the site that’s now being washed away every time it rains.
But, for the sake of comparison, let’s say the County left the water channel as it, resulting in severe and dangerous erosion, which is now destroying the Nixons’ property.
I’ll bet mainstream local media would have been eager to interview the Nixons, broadcast their video coverage of the problem, and highlight the County’s unwillingness to help.
On the other hand, local media may be unwilling to publicize bad news about private HOA subdivisions, especially when developers and home builders help the TV station or newspaper survive with advertising revenue.
Sparse media attention, combined with the HOA’s ability to control communications gives the board of a private community a distinct power advantage over its members.
Politics and social dysfunction in HOA-ville
Now stop and consider another question. What is the typical public reaction to news reports that make the government look bad?
We know the answer. Usually, there’s public outrage directed at ineffective politicians.
Suppose Fort Bend County — not Weston Lakes POA — were directly responsible for storm drainage behind the Nixons’ home. I have a strong hunch that the Nixons’ Weston Lakes neighbors would stand behind them, and insist that the County to do what’s right by the taxpayers.
I doubt that the neighbors would accuse the Nixons of harming their property values with embarrassing information about their County government.
So, what is it about HOA-ville that creates a polar opposite public reaction?
A defensive HOA board? Neighborhood secrecy that breeds ignorance and apathy? A neighborhood culture that values property more than people?
Perhaps all of the above.
The reaction of the HOA community is not surprising when you consider the shaky political and social foundation of deed restricted, common interest, HOA-governed communities.
Joe and Jill Nixon are not the villains of Weston Lakes. They’re unlucky victims of dysfunctional developer-centric HOA-governance, combined with the laissez-faire attitude of their local government.
It’s time to stop the madness and start caring about our neighbors.