By Deborah Goonan, Independent American Communities
Today’s post highlights several outrageous examples of HOA abuse and controversy: unreasonable restrictions, HOA foreclosures, and angry neighbor attacks.
Beginning in mid-March, I noticed a wholesale change in the nature of HOA-related news reports. Not surprisingly, the HOA industry shifted their focus to dealing with COVID-19 stay-at-home orders, legal liabilities for the association, and how to respond to an expected drop in HOA assessment revenue as a result of a recession.
So most of the articles I’ve read in the past three months were columns written by HOA attorneys and managers advising boards how to respond to the crisis.
I’d say mainstream and local media have been way too busy reporting on COVID-19 outbreaks — this in addition to a high level of political upheaval in a Presidential election year.
So I haven’t seen the usual mundane reports of investigation of HOA corruption and fraud.
Social unrest and its link to abuse of power
Recently, I’m seeing some crazy news reports of homeowners coping with petty rule violations. And as predicted in a previous IAC post, HOAs generally expect members must to keep paying their HOA fees in full, even if the board restricts access to common amenities, or chooses not to open them up at all.
A few weeks ago, the U.S. learned of a black man’s death (George Floyd) at the hands of police officers, who are now charged with his murder.
That has led to peaceful protests as well as violent looting and rioting in cities across the country.
At the moment, the media is showing more interest in investigating abuses of power by police and other authority figures of all kinds, including HOAs.
On a related note, I think that, once the dust settles, homeowners will start complaining about COVID-related HOA assessment increases and inquiring about access to minutes from virtual HOA board meetings.
Who knows what kind of unpleasant surprises they’ll discover!
Plus, after being cooped up at home, or working on the front lines, It’s safe to say that a lot of Americans are in no mood for dealing with their oppressive HOA rules. More and more homeowners and residents see draconian HOA rule enforcement for what it is — just another way to generate revenue for the HOA and its attorney, by imposing fines and legal fees on homeowners already under stress.
Most legislation on hold this year
On the political front, it appears state legislatures have dropped most activity on HOA-related bills. After all, state lawmakers are far more absorbed by political infighting over how to distribute state of emergency appropriations, as well as when and how to reopen their devastated economies.
(As a prime example, in my home state of Pennsylvania, the Republican majority in the Legislature just filed a petition to impeach state Governor Tom Wolf.)
Many cities face huge budget shortfalls, as well as increasing pressure from aggressive activist groups to defund their police departments. (Both factors will likely lead to more hardship and expense for homeowners in HOAville. But that’s fodder for a future post.)
My point is, normally, this would be the busiest time of year for discussion of controversial HOA, condo and co-op bills. But not this year. And I think it will be quite a while until we see any significant new HOA legislative activity.
HOAs harassing homeowners?
Even in this chaotic environment, however, HOA horror story headlines are making news.
For example, WTHR reports that a Fishers, Indiana HOA is threatening legal action against homeowners, Bob and Julia Taylor, for having an inflatable wading pool in their backyard, even though the homeowners’ attorney, Brian R. DeHem, says it’s not in violation of Covenants and Restrictions.
DeHem say Oak Hall’s HOA rules allow a non-permanent inflatable pool with a height under 24 inches tall. And the Taylor family pool is in compliance on the height restriction. But the HOA doesn’t seem to care. They still want the wading pool to be removed.
Meanwhile, The Villages-News reports that a Community Development District (CDD) board is ordering homeowners to remove decorative landscape rock from their front yard. I understand why the homeowners got rid of their lawn. Maintaining lush, green grass in Florida’s harsh climate is exceedingly difficult and expensive. I guess the homeowners wanted a more practical alternative.
However, the CDD says it has to go, because the owners did not get permission to replace their entire lawn with decorative stones.
But one of the craziest stories I’ve seen in a long time involves a neighborhood controversy over a small and whimsical frog statue. According to one report, a homeowner was out on a walk with her 6-year-old child, who was frightened by the ‘creepy’ lawn ornament in a neighbor’s front yard.
Predictably, the homeowner complained to the HOA.
The HOA responded by ordering the homeowners to remove the frog statue, stating it was against neighborhood rules and restrictions. The HOA imposed fines when the homeowners resisted their demands.
The homeowner who complained about the frog statute posted her story on reddit.
But instead of gaining support from other HOA rule lovers, the vast majority of commenters have been critical of the HOA and the neighbor who complained in the first place.
13 Investigates: Fishers HOA dispute over inflatable pool
Published: 7:31 PM EDT June 15, 2020
Updated: 7:30 PM EDT June 15, 2020
Homeowner in The Villages ordered to remove rock from yard
Villages-News June 5, 2020
Controversial lawn decoration ignites battle within neighborhood: ‘Why would you do this?’
Kelsey Weekman Yahoo!Life
June 22, 2020, 3:51 PM EDT
HOA pool, clubhouse off limits to some homeowners
And then there’s this predictable story. According to inMaricopa.com (Arizona), some homeowners have been banned from the community pool and club house, because they are health care workers on the front lines.
You see, their HOA insists that all residents must sign a legal waiver, to hold the HOA harmless if they get sick from COVID-19, and due to exposure in the HOA common areas. However, even though the homeowners, Ryan and Heather Walter, signed the waiver, their access cards have been deactivated, out of fear that the Walters might be asymptomatic spreaders of the virus.
And, yes, the HOA absolutely refuses to waive its fees for the Walters, even though enforcement of HOA policy means that, as long as they continue to work at the local hospital, the Walters and their children cannot use the pool and the club house.
The Walters and other homeowners affected by HOA restrictions and deactivated amenity cards have consulted an attorney, who has written a letter on their behalf.
In The Villages, frontline workers locked out of pool, clubhouse
by Bob McGovern – Jun 15, 2020
HOA manager allegedly files false police report against homeowner
One of those homeowners represented by legal counsel is Bryan Ott. He stopped by the HOA office to inquire about attending a meeting.
Ott says the HOA manager went ballistic, accusing him of being aggressive and attempting to record video of their interaction on his cell phone. (which he wasn’t doing) In fact, the HOA manager went so far as to call the police and file a complaint against Ott.
Fortunately, surveillance video from the HOA office proves that the HOA manager and board member side kick made the whole thing up.
After run-in with HOA manager, new Villages resident ‘appalled’
by Bob McGovern – Jun 22, 2020
HOA foreclosure moratorium ends
And, as for homeowners that have falleb behind on their HOA fees due to unemployment, a 90-day moratorium on foreclosure filings is now over.
HOAs are bringing down the hammer and filing foreclosures to collect their money. On top of losing their jobs, owners could also lose their homes to the highest bidder, over a few hundred or thousand dollars in unpaid assessments. According to reports, it’s already happening in Texas and Nevada.
Nothing new here.
All too often, a crisis breeds additional misery for homeowners in HOAville.
Behind in association dues? Your neighbors may foreclose.
R.A. Schuetz June 19, 2020 Updated: June 19, 2020 6:48 a.m.
Despite foreclosure freeze, HOAs sending default notices
By Eli Segall Las Vegas Review-Journal
June 11, 2020 – 1:21 pm
HOA confrontations get ugly
Unfortunately, it appears that quality of life in HOA-governed communities is on a steep decline.
And I can’t help but wonder how much communal ownership of real estate has contributed to the crises we face as a nation.
The stress of living with a global pandemic and social unrest is leading to the unraveling of HOA-governed communities across the U.S. Three examples follow.
There’s no unity in The Villages community association
I recall the television ads in decades past, dubbing The Villages as “Florida’s friendliest hometown.”
I’ve always thought is was a dubious claim.
Nevertheless, lots of recently retired home buyers believed the hype and bought into the utopian dream of “free” golf (at the time) and the opportunity to make new friends in the Sunshine State.
Interestingly, over the years, The Villages has become a favored campaign stop for the Republican party. And it really isn’t surprising that many HOA-governed communities become havens of conformity and group think — but not necessarily just for a single political party.
When you think about it, HOAs are fertile breeding grounds for conflict. And they’re perfect environments for cultivating tribalism.
That’s because, for at least 5 decades, real estate developers have deliberately designed their private communities as exclusive places. HOAs are often created to appeal to specific niche markets. In the case of The Villages in Florida: affluent recently-retired golfers moving from the snow belt areas of the U.S.
However, real estate developers rarely consider the fact that their carefully-planned communities will change over time.
It’s inevitable. As long-time residents move out, new, younger residents with different values and lifestyle preferences will move in.
And, although Democrats remain in the minority in The Villages, it appears they’ve joined forces and become quite vocal.
Check out the Villages-News video, as the two politically opposed groups of seniors hurl profanities and insults over the annual Trump golf cart rally.
Notice the contempt for freedom of speech and assembly, and the complete lack of civility.
Tempers boil over as Democrats square off with Trump supporters at golf cart rally
June 14, 2020
Larry D. Croom
HOA President confronts black delivery truck driver, accuses him of trespassing in the private gated community
Last month, prior to the death George Floyd in Minneapolis, Travis Miller had a bad day when he delivered a major appliance to a resident of Ashford Hills, a gated community in Oklahoma City.
The customer had provided Miller with a gate code to bring his delivery truck into the private community. After the delivery was complete, Miller turned his truck around in a nearby cul-de-sac. He was headed for the gate to exit the community when HOA President David Stewart blocked off the exit with his car.
Stewart demanded to know what Miller was doing in Ashford Hills, and where he made his delivery. When Miller told Stewart it was frankly none of his business, the HOA President refused to move his car to allow Miller to exit. Stewart reportedly called the police to report Miller for trespassing on private property.
The resident who ordered the delivery eventually came out of his house, and confirmed Miller’s story to Stewart. At that point, the HOA President moved his vehicle to allow Miller to exit through the gate.
Miller immediately reported the incident to Oklahoma City Police, who have now opened an investigation into the conduct of the HOA President.
Miller captured the tense confrontation on a 37-minute Facebook Live video.
The video went viral.
The investigation is still in progress.
A black delivery driver filmed himself being trapped in an Oklahoma City neighborhood as an HOA president demanded to know why he was there
firstname.lastname@example.org (Kelly McLaughlin)
INSIDER•May 14, 2020
Delivery truck driver involved in tense confrontation returns to neighborhood with police
Updated: 8:04 PM CDT May 20, 2020
Patrina Adger, KOCO News
Resident arrested after violent attack of HOA President over flooded basement
Regular readers of IAC know that many HOA conflicts erupt over poorly designed and maintained infrastructure.
Usually, those disputes result in lawsuits between neighbors or against the HOA, and many are ultimately settled out of court.
With tensions running high amid the COVID-19-induced economic crisis, a frustrated and angry homeowner inappropriately lashed out in a violent exchange, according to a recent arrest report filed by North Olmstead Police.
According to Fox 8 News, local police arrested Dean Kohler after he allegedly attacked his neighbor, the HOA’s President, putting him in a choke hold.
Kohler was extremely upset about flooding in his basement, which he blames on the HOA’s decision to allow a builder to tie in to his existing sewer drain as part of a new construction project.
The HOA community and its President are not named in the report.
North Olmsted man chokes HOA president over flooding issue, police say
Posted: May 19, 2020 / 12:31 PM EDT / Updated: May 19, 2020 / 12:35 PM EDT
All in all, in these troubled times, I’m afraid there’s not much “unity” in HOA-governed community associations in the U.S.
But hopefully, we’ll see a lot more social pressure to crack down on abusive HOA leaders and enforcement of draconian restrictions and rules. ♦