Beyond the condo collapse: NO HOA-Governed community is immune to infrastructure failure

Across the U.S., owners, HOAs struggle with disaster recovery, deferred maintenance

by Deborah Goonan, Independent American Communities (IAC)

Since the catastrophic collapse of Champlain Towers South Condominium in Surfside, Florida, in June (2021), the industry has been focusing on structural failures of high rise buildings. Of course, it’s important to work to prevent a similar disaster in the future.

But IAC thinks that focusing only on the condominium high-rise is short-sighted.

As illustrated by several examples in this post, all types of HOA-governed housing — including low-rise condominiums, townhouses, and planned communities with single family homes — are seeing a rise in expensive and unexpected repairs. The majority of deterioration can be attributed to three primary causes: construction or design defects, years or decades of neglected maintenance, or uninsured or underinsured hazards (fires or natural disasters).

Regardless of the form of housing, the majority of common interest ownership communities follow a consistent and predictable pattern of social and economic dysfunction, as summarized in a previous IAC post.

Bensalem, PA, July 2021:

Lafayette Gardens, a duplex townhouse style condominium association, devastated by flash flooding

Lafayette Gardens is a 66-unit condominium housing complex is sandwiched between the Bensalem Pike and a creek that feeds into nearby Delaware River. The community is a mix of owner-occupied and landlord-owned units occupied by tenants.

Last month, heavy rains led to flash flooding of Poquessing Creek, spilling up to 10 feet of water into the community and destroying all condo units in two buildings. The rushing waters swept away several of residents’ vehicles, and destroyed most or all of their personal possessions.

Bucks County evacuated all buildings, while the HOA worked with inspectors to determine the extent of the damage. Two buildings will have to be completely gutted and rebuilt. Contractors will remove wet carpets, drywall, and mold, and make electrical repairs to the remainder of condo units before owners and tenants can return. 

The insurance claim and repair process is complicated, because multiple owners and tenants are involved. The SBA is offering low-interest loans to owners and residents, although most say they cannot afford to take on debt. Displaced residents are struggling to find another place to live. 

The condo association is reportedly looking into the possibility of building a wall or levee along the creek, in hopes that they can avert another flood in the future. 

However, their goal may be elusive, for two reasons. 

First, some experts claim that, as a result of climate change, the world will experience more frequent severe storms and flooding rains. 

Second, regardless of the cause of wild weather patterns, the community’s aging stormwater infrastructure is no longer adequate for the job. Most likely, when the housing project was built around five decades ago, upstream development patterns were less dense than they are today. As a result, Lafayette Gardens’ drainage system was not designed to handle today’s higher volume of water runoff from nearby expanded highways, more modern concrete structures, and additional rooftops from newer construction that has occurred upstream. Additionally, culverts and catch basins have probably deteriorated over time, especially if the community has failed to regularly its maintain drainage structures. 

Unit owners are likely to discover that the cost of preventing repeated flash flooding is cost prohibitive. 


Lower Bucks flood victims in limbo a month after destructive storm. What’s next?

Christopher Dornblaser

Jo Ciavaglia

Bucks County Courier Times

August 13, 2021

National Weather Service says Philly region hit with up to 10″ of rain in ‘100-year flood’ Monday, and it most likely won’t be a century before the next one



JUL 13, 2021 AT 2:33 PM

Nashville, TN, March – July 2021

The Villages of Brentwood

Residents in the Villages of Brentwood fear the worst, as this spring’s rainy season erodes away acres of land behind their homes 

The HOA-governed community of single family homes sits atop the steep banks of a nearby creek. 

Property owners are concerned for their safety, and the stability of their homes. They have sought help from their HOA, their Town Council member, FEMA, their homeowners’ insurance companies, and professional engineers. They’ve been informed that the cost to build some a retaining wall or stabilizing structure into the steep hillside would exceed the value of their homes. 

Government officials claim they cannot authorize the Army Corp of Engineers to inspect the site, let alone work on the erosion problem, because the creek is privately owned by Villages of Brentwood HOA.

That presents the volunteer homeowners on the HOA board with an unfair burden to reach an unattainable goal. How can they resolve a serious erosion problem, one that might result in a catastrophic landslide, without any administrative or financial support from the local government that originally approved the development of Brentwood homes on the site of an unstable slope?


Erosion threatens homes in The Villages of Brentwood

by: Mary Mays (WKRN)

Posted: Jul 13, 2021 / 05:34 PM CDT / Updated: Jul 13, 2021 / 05:34 PM CDT

Erosion threatens homes in South Nashville as neighbors look for solutions

By Emily Luxen, WTVF

Posted at 10:10 PM, Jul 13, 2021 and last updated 11:42 PM, Jul 13, 2021

Oklahoma City, OK, July 2021

Greenbriar Point homeowner says storm drainage threatens her back yard

A homeowner in Greenbriar Pointe, Oklahoma City, says the drainage canal owned by the homeowners association has been malfunctioning for more than a year. Every time it rains, water has rushed down the commonly owned drainage canals, undermining a retaining wall that borders her back yard. 

The HOA has issued a statement that it cannot afford to repair the problem, and that it is has been unsuccessful in obtaining assistance from surrounding property owners!

The city won’t help the homeowners, because maintenance of the the storm water canals and retaining walls are the HOA’s responsibility. 

Homeowners pay HOA fees which are supposed to be used to maintain common property, including storm water infrastructure. 

The owner is considering legal action, and says that, because her back yard is now unsafe, she and her family may have to vacate their dream home. 


Oklahoma woman says dream home threatened by unattended erosion problem

by: Brya Berry/KFOR

Posted: Jul 28, 2021 / 06:12 PM CDT / Updated: Jul 28, 2021 / 06:20 PM CDT

Sumter County, FL, Feburary 2021

Wildwood Country Resort 

Homeowners in 55+ community pay more than $379 per month for amenities, even though the developer shut them all down, then had the swimming pool removed

The developer of Wildwood Country Resort, Attorney Jonathan Woods, has been a defendant in a class action lawsuit filed by 500 homeowners in 2019.

When they purchased their homes in the 55+ community years ago, they paid a little over $200 per month in HOA fees for maintenance of private roads in their quiet neighborhood. Residents also enjoyed a community swimming pool, clubhouse, tennis and shuffleboard courts, and a private lake with boat access. 

But two years ago, owners grew frustrated with the declining condition of their community, even though their HOA had increased to $361 per month. At that time, lake access had been cordoned off, and roads were showing noticeable signs of wear and tear. 

The owners joined forces and sued Jonathan Woods, who still owns and controls the HOA-governed community. Their lawsuit alleges that Woods has been charging artificially high fees — including a 10% profit margin for himself — yet not adequately maintaining the amenities owners have been paying for. 

Since then, two years have passed. The amenities remained closed through the COVID pandemic, while progress on their lawsuit stalled. 

Then earlier this year, before the owners were give a chance to argue their case in court, Woods simply declared bankruptcy. The he called in a construction crew to demolish the pool, tennis and shuffle board courts. The doors to the clubhouse are locked. All that’s left now is a vacant lot. 

The community’s private roads are now is worse shape than ever. But HOA fees have now increased to $379 per month.

Understandably, homeowners are infuriated that they remain obligated to pay high HOA fees, with nothing to show for it. Woods has released a statement to local media that he plans to restructure his debt in the bankruptcy, and rebuild the amenities from scratch.  

Maybe he will, maybe he won’t. If and when the roads are fixed and a new amenities are built, how high will Woods raise HOA fees to cover the cost?


Our money’s going in the toilet’: Amenities destroyed after homeowners file lawsuit over high fees

February 24, 2021 at 6:40 pm EST

By Karla Ray,

Class action lawsuit targets developer of 55+ community

August 27, 2019 at 6:05 pm EDT

By Karla Ray,

Marlboro, MD, August 2021

Marlton IV

Their HOA has been inactive for ten years. Now homeowners face a $200K special assessment for their crumbling retaining wall and sidewalk.

Residents of Marlton IV have reached out to their state Delegate, Marvin Holmes. Shockingly (or perhaps not so shocking), Holmes estimates that 15-20% of HOAs in his Maryland voting district are defunct. No one is collecting HOA or condo fees, and maintenance is being neglected. 

So what does the state delegate propose as a solution? Walk homeowners through the process of reactivating their HOA. Attempt to enact legislation requiring HOAs to conduct reserve studies every 5 years, even though the state Legislature has shown no interest in oversight of HOAs. 

Let’s be real. Given the history of this relatively small Marlton townhouse community, and the fact that no one has been willing to serve on an HOA board since at least 2013, it’s probably unrealistic to assume each of its 31 owners will be willing and able to come up with more than $8,000 to pay for repairs to their unsafe sidewalk and retaining walls.

Perhaps it would make more sense to transfer ownership of the sidewalk to the city of Marlboro, collect the money through property taxes, and spread the cost of repairs over the next 10-20 years? 

At the very least, the city could repair the retaining wall and create an unpaved walking trail. 

But, truthfully, an uneven sidewalk is probably the least of this townhouse community’s worries. It’s clear that trees and vegetation haven’t been pruned or thinned out in many years. And, without an active HOA, the community has no plan in place to replace the roofs or other exterior components of the attached homes when the time comes.  

So the future of Marlton IV remains uncertain. Unless each individual townhouse owner agrees to maintain their own home, the community is likely to fall into further disrepair. Investors could eventually restart the HOA, then work to dissolve it, so they can convert the community to rental townhomes. 


Defunct Maryland HOA leaves complex with collapsing sidewalk

Homeowners say the Marlton IV HOA hasn’t been active in more than a decade. Now, they’re staring down a costly road repair.

Author: Larry Miller

Published: 3:51 PM EDT August 6, 2021

Updated: 8:43 PM EDT August 6, 2021

Canton Township, MI, August 2021

Sunflower Subdivision stuck with crumbling concrete roads. City, county, and HOA say it’s not their responsibility to fix them.

In the 1990s, when Canton’s suburban Detroit neighborhood was built, the developer used “bad concrete” to pave the roads of the subdivision.

And now that three decades have passed, the poorly patched up roads are in such bad shape, that residents can barely drive their vehicles over the rough terrain.

The community has an HOA, but the HOA doesn’t maintain these public roads. The HOA says it’s Wayne County’s responsibility to fix the roads.  But when the homeowners complaint to Wayne County officials, they insist Canton Township is responsible for road maintenance for the Sunflower subdivision.

Bottom line, homeowners are getting the runaround for a problem they didn’t cause. 

Reading between the lines of this report, it appears that the developer cut corners on road construction. Then neither the County nor the Township accepted Sunflower’s roads to their public roster, because they’ve never met construction codes. But, at the time, they didn’t ensure that the developer fixed the roads either. 

The HOA was never intended to maintain the roads in Sunflower subdivision, either. 

The result: 30 years of inadequate maintenance on top of badly constructed concrete roads. Eventually, someone will have to repair the roads, and the homeowners will foot the bill.


Crumbling condition of Canton subdivision streets ‘an embarrassment’ for residents

Ed Wright

As these documented examples illustrate, unresolved neighborhood disputes, unaccountable HOA boards, and unresponsive local governments are at the root of most infrastructure failures in privately-governed communities of all types.

Legislating high rise inspections won’t reverse the blight and deterioration that exists in thousands of our communities, saddled with commonly-owned property that no one wants to maintain or repair.

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