By Deborah Goonan, Independent American Communities
Due to the coronavirus pandemic crisis, millions of Americans are celebrating Easter Sunday or Passover this year quarantined at home. And, for roughly 70 million Americans, that home is located in an HOA-governed common interest housing community.
Let’s examine how well some HOA-governed communities are serving residents during this time of crisis.
CAI claims HOAs provide a “true sense of community”
For more than 40 years, HOA industry trade group Community Associations Institute (CAI) has remained firmly committed to selling the “community association” concept to housing consumers. In doing so, CAI regularly engages in deceptive PR and advertising, claiming that HOAs “cultivate a true sense of community and active homeowner involvement.”
See the following screen shot of an infographic originally promoted by CAI in 2018:
Sounds nice enough, on the surface, although notably only for homeowners and not all residents.
And what does CAI actually mean by a “true sense of community?”
Well, as you’ll learn in this post, we can learn a lot by observing the behavior of CAI members, including professionals and “homeowner leaders” serving on association boards.
We the people have plenty of evidence to reveal CAI’s apparent “community” agenda.
How does CAI define “community association?”
Look no further than CAI’s official publication An Introduction to Community Association Living.
This online training handbook is written for “homeowner leaders” who serve as board members for homeowners, condominium, or cooperative associations.
According to CAI, all modern HOAs require mandatory membership in an “association” for the purposes of collecting “lien-based economic charges or assessments” to pay for operation and maintenance of property or services shared by its members.
Therefore, the primary purpose of the “community” in this context is purely materialistic. The association of property owners or shareholders exists to finance upkeep of commonly owned property, to pay for shared communal services, and to support administrative enforcement of covenants and restrictions.
No social connection?
Notice that there’s no mention of social connection as a key ingredient of community, even though that’s implied in the marketing of HOA-governed communities as “preferred” places to live.
In truth, the HOA-governed “community” is, at best, a lop-sided business relationship, defined by contractual obligations to the governing entity.
CAI’s official definition is quite different from its flowery promotion a “true sense of community,” is it not?
Definitions aside, how do many, if not most, HOAs actually treat members of their communities? Several examples follow.
HOA hits owners with $25K special assessment during economic shutdown
Example number one is a tough pill to swallow. As reported by Fox13 News of Salt Lake City, the HOA board of The Villages on Draper Hills has just informed homeowners that they plan to move ahead with a $2 million construction project in the midst of a nationwide economic shut down.
HOA members are now obligated to fork over a $25,000 per unit special assessment to their HOA.
And if homeowners like Janice Tabish and Tamara Gaffney don’t pay up, the HOA will file liens on their homes, under threat of foreclosure. Any owner who dares to question the size of the contract, the integrity of the contractor (J2 Building Consultants of Washington) and the bad timing of a huge special assessment are told, in no uncertain terms, “if you don’t like it, then move.”
Of course, there’s another side of the coin.
Owners of townhouse units that show no obvious signs of structural damage from water intrusion don’t think they should have to pay a single penny to make repairs to other homes in their community — even though that’s what they signed up for when they purchased their communally-maintained homes, whether they knew it or not.
Residents fined $250 for parking their vehicles at the curb
Meanwhile, in Arizona, 3TV/CBS5 reports that the Rancho El Mirage HOA is fining its residents, such as Eric Schmidt, $250 for parking vehicles at the curb in front of their homes.
Understandably, at a time when everyone in Arizona is ordered to shelter at home, there’s an influx of additional residents in Rancho El Mirage. Under these unusual circumstances, while they cannot work or attend college, adult children and extended family members must resort to shared living expenses.
That’s why there are more cars than usual in Rancho El Mirage.
Naturally, most residents think the HOA should reconsider its rule against all curbside parking.
But the HOA board and a few neighbors insist that curbside parking poses a threat to safety on the development’s narrow roads.
Now, the HOA could consider a compromise, such as asking residents to park on only one side of the road. But instead their knee jerk reaction has been to strictly enforce the curbside parking ban under penalty hefty fines.
Short-term rental property owners accused of profiting from “shelter in place” orders
Speaking of shelter in place orders, some HOAs are cracking down on short-term rentals.
In southern Coachella Valley, California’s city residents are fleeing their densely packed homes to take extended vacations in short-term rental properties at the Montage development at Indio.
However, according to the Desert Sun, full-time residents of the Montage are complaining of late-night parties at short-term rental homes in their community. In fact, one such legally-forbidden social events has just led to a residential fire that destroyed the rental home.
It appears Montage residents are not in favor of allowing outsiders to carry the coronavirus into their neighborhood, especially since the Governor has restricted short-term rentals.
However, rental property owners can avoid the ban on short term rentals. As long as “shelter in place” residents claim homelessness, displacement because of someone quarantined in their home, or that they are engaging in nearby essential work, they can stay at the Montage.
In short, there’s a local political battle In the community between “insiders” and “outsiders.” Truthfully, it’s hard to distinguish between profiteering rental property owners and those providing true humanitarian aid to people in need of a safe place to live until economic sanctions are lifted.
The consensus of opinion seems to be that travelers from coronavirus hot spots are not welcome in HOA-governed communities, under the assumption that they pose a threat to counties with lower rates of COVID-19 infections.
By the way, similar restrictions on short-term rentals are being imposed in other states, including my home state of Pennsylvania.
No one is talking about the Constitutional or moral implications of such travel restrictions.
Florida HOA says, if needed, it might allow nurse to self-quarantine in RV parked in her driveway
And, for my final example, consider the case of the RV restriction in Magnolia Point Golf and Country Club in Green Cove Spring, Florida.
As presented in my previous post, Sarah Lynch is a nurse coordinator, and works for a local hospital group. She resides in the Magnolia Point community with her husband and their special needs child.
The family owns an RV, which they had moved to the driveway of their property for use as a quarantine zone for Sarah. Although she’s currently handling cases from home, Sarah anticipates floor duty in the hospital as COVID-19 spreads in the Sunshine State.
Lynch explained to the HOA that her RV offers an ideal separate living space, where the health care professional can self-quarantine, to avoid putting her family at risk of being infected with COVID-19.
The Magnolia Point HOA had threatened to fine the homeowners $100 per day, up to $1,000 if they didn’t remove the RV at once.
The Lynch family home sits on a spacious lot with a long driveway, with plenty of room for their RV. It shouldn’t create any health or safety hazard. But, to avoid the fine, the owners have moved the RV back to its storage area.
Since then, the HOA has publicly responded to Lynch’s televised complaint, claiming that if or when the homeowner needs to self-quarantine, then they might allow her to park it in her driveway — but apparently only for 48 hours.
Sarah points out that, once she’s exposed to the virus, the complicated process of retrieving the RV would involve exposing her husband to the virus as well.
The matter remains essentially unresolved.
What is a “true” community?
I think most reasonable people would agree that a true community is much more than the purely economic business arrangement of a typical modern HOA.
For starters, in a true community, everyone sticks together and helps one another in their hour of need.
That means, there will be times when some people in the community won’t be able to pay their ‘fair share’ of expenses. However, other members of the group stand willing and ready to serve one another.
After all, those who serve the needs of their neighbors now may need the help of their neighbors in the future.
In a community of neighbors that truly care for one another, no one is content to sit idly by and be served by the few who are willing to do the lion’s share of the hard work.
And when members are truly involved in the work of their community and its decision-making process, it’s much less likely that a few bad actors will succumb to temptations and self-serving behaviors.
But the prevalent corporate structure of most HOAs, characterized by a top-down hierarchy, putting nearly all power in the hands of board members, does nothing to cultivate group participation or true community values.
Most HOAs are more interested in preserving property values than promoting social values.
Rarely, there are exceptions.
For example, in one small act of good faith, last week the Magnolia Lakes HOA and the South Trail Fire District in Fort Myers (FL) handed out sidewalk chalk to neighborhood children.
With the kids out of school and learning online, probably for the remainder of the year, they and their parents definitely need a creative outlet to help relieve stress.
If only the people who lead HOAs would put more emphasis on caring for and serving one another vs. controlling the behavior of fellow neighbors.
Then we’d see a lot more residents of HOA-governed housing embrace a “true sense of community.” ♦
FOX 13 Investigates: Draper HOA hits homeowners with $25,000 fee during pandemic
By: Adam Herbets, Fox 13 (Salt Lake City, UT)
Posted at 9:56 PM, Apr 07, 2020 and last updated 1:38 PM, Apr 10, 2020
HOA fining residents for parking on street during stay-at-home order
Posted Apr 10, 2020
EL MIRAGE, AZ (3TV/CBS5)
Coronavirus: Residential fire in Indio tied to rental running ‘shelter-in-place special’ Christopher Damien, Palm Springs Desert Sun Published 9:15 p.m. PT April 9, 2020 | Updated 5:44 p.m. PT April 10, 2020
Pennsylvania plans to ban Airbnb rentals as COVID-19 cases rise in Poconos
As visitors flee hotspots to stay in remote locations, the coronavirus is coming with them
BY MICHAEL TANENBAUM
HOA responds to Clay County nurse’s ‘quarantine RV’ debate
Vic Micolucci, I-Team reporter, anchor News4Jax
Published: April 1, 2020, 9:58 pmUpdated: April 1, 2020, 11:52 pm
South Trail Fire District, HOAs donate chalk to neighborhood children
Thursday, April 2nd 2020, 4:39 PM EDT by Rachel Anderson ABC7 (Fort Myers, FL)
Updated: Thursday, April 2nd 2020, 7:26 PM EDT