By Deborah Goonan, Independent American Communities
Talking heads of the HOA-industry often claim HOAs are community-minded governing bodies. But, even in the face of crisis, there seems to be little compassion in sight.
Interestingly, one pundit thinks HOA abuse of power is trivial compared to recent overreach by “real” government.
Last week Town Hall columnist A.J.Rice penned a fascinating editorial entitled “America: The Coronavirus HOA.” According to Rice, government in the U.S. has become one large involuntary HOA, far more onerous than any community association.
Rice opens his article with the following quote: “Homeowner’s Associations (HOAs) are petty tyrannies but at least they’re voluntary ones.“
Wait. Full stop.
Homeowners do not voluntarily “join” an HOA
As explained here numerous times on IAC, it’s entirely erroneous to assume that membership in HOAs is “voluntary.” In fact, nearly all planned communities established since 1980 are, in fact, governed by mandatory membership homeowners associations.
Furthermore, local governments across the U.S., and especially in southern and western states, tend to require all new housing development to be a common interest community that includes an entity to fund and provide ongoing maintenance and services.
According to Census data, nearly 3 out of every 4 new homes are governed by a homeowners, condominium, or cooperative association.
So, if a housing consumer wants to buy — or even rent — a home or apartment that’s less than 40 years old, they’ll be hard-pressed to “voluntarily” avoid some form of HOA.
And in many fast-growing markets, more than 90% of all housing is HOA-governed. Practically speaking, the only way to avoid an HOA is to move to another region or state with a larger supply of vintage neighborhoods or rural housing.
So, first of all, let’s get one fact straight. In most cases, a housing consumer has little choice to avoid HOAs, and therefore, does not “voluntarily join” one.
Is “real” government more onerous than your HOA?
In addition to Rice’s “HOAs are voluntary” statement, he goes on to make several other misguided statements about HOA-ville USA, such as these doozies:
No HOA decrees how close you’re allowed to stand next to a neighbor or whether you’re allowed to have the neighbors over for a backyard get-together.
No HOA has the power to decree that the way you make your living isn’t “essential” while at the same time demanding you pay what it claims you “owe” for such things as the property taxes on your home.
Else risk being forcibly ejected from it.
America: The Coronavirus HOA
A.J. Rice, Town Hall
Posted: May 03, 2020 12:01 AM
Mr. Rice, are you totally unaware of what’s really going on in these privately-governed communities?
The fact is, HOAs are essentially semi-private extensions of local government. So, in the U.S., HOAs are indeed decreeing how close you can stand next to your neighbors, and disallowing get-togethers in their neighborhood parks and common areas.
Are you also unaware that most HOA-governed communities have completely shut down their gathering areas? Many closed their common areas long before state governors ordered them to do so.
Plans to re-open amenities come with restrictions
And even as some communities begin to re-open outdoor recreation areas, swimming pools, and (eventually) indoor fitness centers, HOAs must comply with state orders. Therefore, HOAs are implementing rules requiring masks and social distancing. (See advice columns from HOA-industry attorneys here and here.)
Condominium and co-op buildings are going even further. Many are closely monitoring and even restricting non-resident visitors — to include care givers and family members.
Some planned communities with HOAs are even preventing property owners from traveling to, and living in, their non-primary homes away from home.
From banning sidewalk chalk to threatening to fine a homeowner for posting her child’s artwork in her front window, HOAs are off-the-rails out of control. See the reference section below for several shining examples of HOA overreach and abuse of power.
HOA taxation mirrors government taxation
And, of course, HOAs “tax” owners in the form of mandatory assessments and fees that must be paid, no matter what. Yes, even if the HOA fails to deliver the services it promises in its governing documents, a property owner is still required to pay!
In fact, if a home or condo owner fails to pay assessments and fees in full and on time, the HOA is legally empowered to file a property lien, and collect that lien through various means — including garnishment of wages or HOA foreclosure.
How is that any different than a government’s power of taxation?
It’s not different.
It’s the SAME THING.
In an HOA, your business may be deemed non-essential and harmful to property values
And, by the way, Mr. Rice, HOAs are quite fond of deeming certain home based businesses and work vehicles as inappropriate and against HOA restrictions. HOAs justify their restrictions against homeowner and resident rights as necessary to protect property values.
Never mind the adverse effects of dictating how you make a living. Some uppity neighbors just don’t want to look at your pickup truck or allow you to provide child day care for working parents in the community.
An increasing number of such reports are documented on this website.
Coronavirus crisis provides “cover” for plenty of HOA overreach and exploitation
Among the recent headlines from the industry, you’ll read about HOAs that are denying homeowner requests for a partial refund or break on their monthly or annual assessments.
Residents argue that, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, since they cannot use the common areas, they shouldn’t have to pay for them.
Seems reasonable, but HOAs aren’t about to give up their rights to collect revenue from property owners.
Not only are HOAs scoffing at requests for a break on HOA fees, some notably wealthy community associations are also applying for federal pandemic loans (PPP), so they can continue to meet payroll for their staff.
And, according to some homeowners who have contacted me at IAC, HOA boards are decreeing an “emergency” and approving loan applications without a membership vote.
Some HOAs move ahead with fines, foreclosure
At the same time, some HOAs continue to impose fines and file costly lawsuits against homeowners over petty issues. In one particular case, a Florida HOA rescinded Denise Wuetcher’s right to hang laundry on her HOA-approved clothesline.
Another Florida homeowner faces losing his home to HOA foreclosure in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis. The HOA placed an $856 lien on Caleb Leitch’s property in 2015. Despite his attempts to work out a reasonable repayment plan, that lien has grown to more than $8,800. Currently unemployed, the homeowner may be unable to save his home from being sold to the highest bidder at auction.
In Saratoga Springs, Utah, an HOA is fighting with a homeowner over his right to display blue holiday lights in honor of medical first responders in the pandemic. HOA board member Joey Duckworth claims homeowner Jeff Noorda picked a fight with his angry email response to the HOA’s violation notice.
Instead of rising above the angry homeowner response, the HOA decided to show the community who’s the boss. Petty, petty, petty.
Face it. When you look at the big picture, HOAs are every bit as prone to overreach as state and local government. And that’s because HOAs are, in essence, a hyper-local form of government.
Is HOA-ism at the root of public revolt against government?
I still find it curious that Rice chose to compare COVID-19 government overreach to HOAs, yet summarily dismissed HOA tyranny as trivial by comparison.
Makes no sense, if you ask me.
Here’s something else to consider.
Perhaps HOAs are the reason some American local, state, and federal leaders feel so emboldened to exert their power.
After all, the HOA experiment has been force fed to housing consumers since the establishment of real estate industry-funded Community Associations Institute in 1973.
And, over the past 5 decades, state leaders have willingly enabled HOAs with increasing levels of governing power. The federal government has allowed this to happen.
So far, HOA abuse of power hasn’t sparked widespread protest or revolution.
But…now that HOA-like restrictions are taking hold at the state and local government level, we’re starting to see American protests and backlash against overreach and abuse of power.
I have a hunch that similar protests will trickle down to private communities governed by HOAs. ♦
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Institute for Justice report On abusive fees and fines ignores the fact that HOAs have been behaving this way, with government’s tacit approval, for 4 or 5 decades. “Municipal Fines and Fees: A 50-State Survey of State Laws”
Venice homeowners association fines resident $2,500 over legally-protected clothesline
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Kevin Robinson, Pensacola News JournalPublished 5:39 p.m. CT May 4, 2020
Neighborhood fights over blue Christmas lights to honor medical workers
By Tania Dean, KSL TV | Posted – Apr. 28, 2020 at 9:07 a.m