By Deborah Goonan, Independent American Communities
This week, in response to an 11Alive investigation into shady HOA foreclosures, an HOA-industry trade group attorney in Georgia defends the indefensible.
Woman loses home at HOA foreclosure sale for $3.24
As reported by Rebecca Lindstrom of 11Alive, Patricia Quigley has paid thousands of dollars to the Eagle Watch HOA in Cherokee County. But, somehow, she was never able to pay off the debt, ultimately losing her home to HOA foreclosure.
The dispute began in 2010, when Quigley, dissatisfied with service from her HOA, refused to pay her $700 annual HOA fee.
Soon afterward, Eagle Watch HOA hired Lazega and Johanson, a law firm, to collect the homeowners’ debt. At that point, the HOA law firm tacked on 18% interest, late fees, plus its own attorney fees.
Quiqley’s $700 unpaid HOA assessment soon turned into a lien for $2,700. She thought it was outrageous, but she went out of her way to pay off the debt.
Or at least, she thoughts she had ended the collection nightmare and threat of foreclosure.
But the homeowner says, those HOA debt collection letters just kept coming. In addition to past due HOA fees, Quigley was told she must also pay for “back interest” and “post-judgment legal fees.”
HOA priority of payment scheme leads to unending debt
The homeowner later learned that the HOA had been applying her current HOA payments to this back-interest and attorney fees, keeping her HOA account perpetually delinquent.
Within months, Quigley owed $6,400.
All of this over a dispute involving $700 in HOA fees.
Over the course of four years, the homeowner says she paid $9,000 toward her account, trying to climb out of the “black hole.” Yet, somehow, she was still behind on her HOA fees.
Then, in November 2017, the HOA purchased Quigley’a home at its own foreclosure auction, for $3.24. That’s right. Three dollars and twenty-four cents.
Despite all her efforts to pay the HOA and settle her dispute, Quigley lost her home of 17 years, along with tens of thousands of dollars in equity.
After the sale, more injustice
The purchaser of her home, Legacy Investment Properties LLC, is owned by a woman who reportedly turned around and sold the home 7 months later to a new owner, presumably for a profit.
But Quigley says the HOA never officially notified her of the sale, allowing her to live in her home and continue to pay another $4,600 in HOA fees, before serving her an eviction notice in 2018.
Incredibly, community association attorney George Nowack tells 11Alive that, since Quigley voluntarily continued to pay HOA fees for a home she didn’t own, Georgia law doesn’t require the HOA to pay her back.
Nowack shamelessly blames Quigley for not appearing in court to fight the HOA foreclosure. And he sees nothing wrong about the HOA accepting payments for a property Quigley no longer owns.
Another homeowner attempts to fight back, but loses in unfair court battle with her HOA
So, what happens when a homeowner tries to fight the HOA on its own turf?
Here’s a typical example.
Fencia Law owns a home governed by the Rosewood Community Association, in Douglas County. She, too, ran afoul of her HOA with some maintenance violations, and reportedly fell behind on her HOA fees.
At the time, she was unemployed, but the HOA still garnished her bank accounts.
Law set up a payment plan with her HOA, but, on numerous occasions, the collection firm didn’t cash her checks. Instead, she says, her mail envelopes were returned, unopened, without explanation.
That led to additional late fees and interest on Law’s HOA account.
Like Quigley, Law disputed the additional fees, and found it exceedingly difficult to eliminate the debt her HOA claimed she owed.
Notice a pattern here?
Two different HOAs, both engaging in apparent fee gouging. Both unwilling to answer questions or communicate with the homeowners.
Unfair court battle
Law attempted to fight the HOA in court, but found it challenging to meet the court’s technical requirements without an attorney of her own. Unable to afford legal counsel, Law was forced to give up the fight, thus losing her HOA legal battle.
The court ordered Law to pay more than $4,100.
It smacks of extortion. But, under Georgia state law, this process is completely legal.
Ironically, the homeowner was instructed to mail her court ordered payment to the very same address where she previously mailed her returned HOA fee checks.
But this time, Law’s check was cashed, not returned without explanation.
Shocking? Not really.
Soured by her HOA experience, Law has since moved out of Rosewood, and has put her home on the market.
Attorney Nowack explains emphatically to 11Alive that there’s absolutely no legal excuse for not paying HOA fees. He says that when a homeowner disagrees with the HOA, their only legal option in Georgia is to pay first, and then sue the HOA.
It’s a patently unfair, one-sided legal playing field, pitting homeowners with limited resources against aggressive HOA attorneys. Win, lose, or draw in court, HOA attorneys always get paid.
HOA collection, foreclosure abuse not limited to Georgia
Across the U.S., IAC has observed similar reports of HOAs aggressively pursuing homeowners, trapping them in an endless pursuit of bringing their accounts current to avoid HOA foreclosure.
Sometimes HOA disputes begin with relatively minor covenant violations. Other times, a homeowner misses an HOA payment or falls on hard times.
Whatever the reasons behind an HOA lien, the homeowner’s penalty for not paying is often out of proportion with the actual debt owed.
More often than not, HOA attorneys and collection agents reap much higher financial benefits than the community associations they represent.
Little regulatory oversight of HOAs
Nationwide, including the 6 states with an Ombudsman, there’s little effective regulatory oversight of HOAs, their management agents, and affiliated HOA attorneys.
State laws impose no limits on “reasonable” attorney fees in relation to actual HOA debt owed. There are no uniform Federal guidelines to establish minimum thresholds to trigger an HOA foreclosure.
No state or federal law requires HOAs to start minimum auction bids near actual market value. And there’s no guarantee that the owner will receive excess proceeds of the sale, after lenders, the HOA, and its attorneys get paid.
Incredibly, most state laws don’t even prohibit the sale of a foreclosed home to a buyer affiliated with the HOA, its management agent, or collection attorney. That’s a huge conflict of interest, akin to insider trading. But it’s not illegal in most states.
All of these facts may come as a shock to some readers.
Even more shocking — the trade group that claims to represent all homeowners who live in HOA-governed communities writes and supports laws that enable this gross imbalance of justice.
More proof that CAI doesn’t represent the interests of “all homeowners” who reside in HOA-governed communities
Notice that neither Eagle Watch or Rosewood HOAs would talk to 11Alive.
Instead, they deferred to an attorney with strong ties to Community Associations Institute (CAI).
George E. Nowack, Jr., is Co-Founder of the Nowack Howard law firm.
According to his website, Nowack is “an active member of the Community Associations Institute since 1982,” and “George was one of the earliest members of Georgia’s CAI Chapter and served as Georgia Chapter President in 1990.”
Nowack has served two terms on CAI’s National Board of Trustees, serving as President in 1994-1995.
In light of his dedication and commitment to CAI, George has earned many awards and special recognition over the years. In 2003, George received CAI-Georgia’s Educator of the Year Award. In 2004 and 2005, George received CAI-National’s President’s Award for his extraordinary services to CAI’s National Presidents. George received CAI-National’s 2007-2008 Award of Excellence in Designations. In addition, in recognition of George’s exceptional dedication to CAI, in May 2011, he received CAI-National’s Distinguished Service Award.
In 1994, George’s peers named him to the charter class of the College of Community Association Lawyers. George was elected to the College’s Board of Governors in 2002. He served two terms as the Dean of the College from 2007-2009. Since 1985, George has served as a member of the faculty of the College’s annual Community Association Law Seminar and, for 14 years, at the two general opening sessions of the Law Seminar, George co-presented a review of the 50 most significant cases affecting community associations and the resulting trends. In 2010, the College presented George with the first Gurdon Buck Award, the College’s most prestigious recognition.
CAI’s teacher of HOA attorneys
So now it becomes clear.
Nowack is so well-respected by CAI that he teaches other attorney members to follow the same playbook.
- Demonize homeowners who don’t pay, labeling them “deadbeats.” Emphasize the “unfairness” of some owners not paying their HOA fees — without regard to the reasons for nonpayment.
- Ignore the fact that, sometimes, perhaps most of the time, a homeowner has justifiable reasons for withholding HOA fees.
- Punish the wayward homeowner by tacking on high interest, multiple late fees, and virtually unlimited attorney fees.
- Refuse to accept partial payments, thus increasing the amount of the lien against the homeowner’s property.
- On payment plans, apply payments to attorney fees before the HOA assessment debt.
Given ample proof of abuse of the HOA collection and foreclosure process in the U.S., why would any homeowner, board member, or Legislator believe CAI’s claim that it serves the interests of all homeowners? ♦
In Georgia, consumers have less protection against HOA foreclosure than tax foreclosure. See this website for Georgia Department of Law, Consumer Protection Division, with regard to tax foreclosures.
Author: Rebecca Lindstrom | 11Alive
Published: 4:43 PM EST November 20, 2019
Updated: 5:04 PM EST November 21, 2019