Homeowner's associations, how to deal with them?
April 16, 2004 10:46 AM   Subscribe

Homeowner's associations : anyone had problems with them? If so, what solutions worked? (more inside)

To make a very long story short, my husband and I are stuck in a house in a subdivision with a HOA. For the past several years, they have made our lives a living hell. The rules change constantly and they have no problem slapping us with a $600 fine if we don't comply, even if we didn't get a copy of the new rules. If we don't pay the fine, they have the right to a non-judicial foreclosure. I have many more examples of their invasive behavior. We are to the point of selling it as a "quick sale" and getting out, credit be damned. We can't sell it for what we owe on it. Has anyone ever had similar problems, and if so, did anything work?
posted by littlegirlblue to Human Relations (22 answers total)
Could you give an example of the rules that they keep changing?
posted by reverendX at 11:05 AM on April 16, 2004

If we don't pay the fine, they have the right to a non-judicial foreclosure

I'm afraid I don't have any help to offer, but I'd love it if someone can explain how this is possible. How on earth can a private association, unrelated to the mortgage holder, impose fines and actually foreclose a house? "Non-judicial foreclosure" is a phrase that just makes no sense to me. How is the foreclosure enforced?
posted by crunchburger at 11:09 AM on April 16, 2004

Yes, pay the them. Note, also had to pay the lawyer which was hired to foreclose on me. Being an owner makes me on the board in a non voted position so I really sued my self.
Good luck finding a new home development without one.

Cruchburger, I'm curious too as my condo is homesteaded under Texas and supposedly the IRS can't do this yet they had my condo on the auction block within 3 months of the notice.
posted by thomcatspike at 11:26 AM on April 16, 2004

posted by thomcatspike at 11:29 AM on April 16, 2004

Response by poster: I think my favorite recent rule change was that patio and porch furniture needed to match the trim of your house. We received a letter instructing us to either paint our dark brown chairs on the porch to match or replace them. They put in rules like this every month or so, along with increasing dues about every six months.

They have a right to place a lien on our house for unpaid fees and dues. Once the lien is in place, they can foreclose to collect and then sell the house to pay off the mortgage. There is no state or federal agency to regulate HOAs. In fact, there is a Colorado state law stating that all new homes (excluding custom-built) have to be governed by one. They are private corporations and use property management companies.
posted by littlegirlblue at 11:29 AM on April 16, 2004

I would say you need to check your CC&R's, and if it's really a serious issue, you may want to hire a land-use attorney. Some of the construction projects my firm works on don't sit too well with the HOA's, but we fight them and win quite often. Or at least get them to back down a little bit. Our clients also generally have shitloads of money, so litigation with the possibility of a negative outcome isn't such a big deal to them. I'm in CA, not sure about Colorado law. Can you get on the board? Do they have meetings? Do you attend? Does anyone?
posted by LionIndex at 11:33 AM on April 16, 2004

to foreclose on me....meant, put a lien on me.

Notice the way an additional rule or rule change is made. They make the voting in a way that a "no vote" is a vote to stop it. So if you don't participate in the voting, it is a "yes vote" for it. Arrrrrrrrrrrr, I'd like to ...
posted by thomcatspike at 12:30 PM on April 16, 2004

This is interesting to me as an outsider (I would avoid HOAs like the plague). When you signed on initially, was there some weasel clause like "This agreement subject to change without notice"? How can you agree to an agreement that is a moving target?

I suppose my bank pulls the same thing on me every couple of months, now that I think about it, but I would think this is different.
posted by adamrice at 12:38 PM on April 16, 2004

Yes, who is on the board? My condo association started off as solely the mortgagers, but heavy petitioning (took about two years) made it a mostly residents board. Granted, we got some bozos who couldn't manage the budget properly (damn my work for taking me out of town those 2 weeks), causing our monthly fees to nearly double for a few months, but things have improved overall and all the meetings are open and on-property.
posted by Sangre Azul at 2:05 PM on April 16, 2004

Nightmare HOA stories are the reason I bought a 30-year-old house in a neighborhood where all the deed covenants have expired.
posted by mrbill at 2:43 PM on April 16, 2004

Stage a coup. Get yourself voted onto the board. Get other neighbors who are having similar problems voted onto the board. Change the system from within.

It's that or litigate if the law is on your side. HOA's (in my limited experience) seem to be populated by busybody rule Nazis drunk with power. The only way around that is to show them there's a higher power.
posted by willnot at 5:05 PM on April 16, 2004

Unfortunately, what Willnot said.
posted by SpecialK at 8:31 PM on April 16, 2004

Wow, I am the president of the little HOA in which I live (in California too) and there is no way our management company would let us get away with anything close to this. We have one homeowner who is beyond the pale and can barely take action to get that person to pay for the damaged caused by his/her actions. Note my reticence to even identify this owner's gender.
posted by billsaysthis at 8:37 PM on April 16, 2004

Well, I'm coming to the conclusion that this is just legal anarchy. I see that agreement to the covenant is attached to the main house closing. But what is the underlying legal authoruty? Isn't there something called the Taking Clause in the Constitution that guarantees you quiet enjoyment?

Foreclosing on a 6 figure home in a dispute over a fine of $600 seems to me a manifest injustice. I understand the need for some kind of neighborhood discipline, but...wow
posted by crunchburger at 10:59 PM on April 16, 2004

There's a loon on my condo council I'm sure would just love to create silly-ass laws like making furniture match the eavestroughs.

Fortunately, she's very aware that if she ever gets that stupid, several of us will rip her a new asshole in front of everybody. So it works out well: she rants for a half-hour every general meeting about petty shit that no one cares about, we all pretend to listen, and then she shuts up because she's afraid to propose a stupid new bylaw. :-)
posted by five fresh fish at 11:03 PM on April 16, 2004

I have to "me-too" with the other people here who are saying you should get on the board and/or form an alliance with other disgruntled neighbors.

I live in a 32-year-old house in an inner-ring suburb and the more horror stories about HOAs I hear, the less desire I have to ever sell my house. I work in the cable industry and the amount of customers I deal with per day who are stymied by their HOAs in efforts to get cable TV installed is ridiculous. What's worse for them is that in many cases there are also rules against dishes.
posted by Electric Elf at 11:03 PM on April 16, 2004

I don't know the US situation, but I know that in BC there's a limit as to how stupid the association can get. An association can write down any bylaw they care to and as long as everyone goes along with it, it gets by. But when push comes to shove and lawyers get involved, the rights certainly are very strongly on the side of the actual owner, not the association.

There are "adult-only" communities. They can't actually stop anyone from buying in (though your life would be a living hell if you did), and they certainly can not kick you out if you have a bun in the oven. There are "no rentals" communities, but they can't actually stop you from renting if you can show financial need and an inability to sell for a profit. And so on.

So perhaps talking to a speciality lawyer would be a good idea, littlegirlblue. It wouldn't surprise me that stupid laws like "the patio furniture must match the eaves" are wholly illegitimate, and that the council will fold like a lawnchair as soon as you mention the words "my lawyer says..."

Also, it's time for you to move.
posted by five fresh fish at 11:08 PM on April 16, 2004

What's worse for them is that in many cases there are also rules against dishes.

Rules against meter-and-smaller (or half-meter-and-smaller) dishes are illegal. Violate federal law.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 5:39 AM on April 17, 2004

Response by poster: Also, it's time for you to move.

It is so fucking time! We're going to go to an association meeting next month and see if they've voted in any homeowner board members (only two so far, and they work for the management company). I kind of think we won't get anywhere though.

Thanks everyone for your suggestions - I have a much better idea of how to deal with this. My husband and I found several dozen old Victorian houses in neighborhoods around Denver for less than $200k, and I think we're going to rent this place out or try to sell it, and get the hell out. I'd much rather work my ass off on DIY projects every weekend than live with this crap.
posted by littlegirlblue at 8:09 AM on April 17, 2004

If you rent it, make damn sure your legal paperwork specifies that the renter pays for all fines, and that there's some sort of clause that allows you to get that money come hell or high water.

You think the board doesn't like you, just wait until your place is rented. Shit's gonna fly then!
posted by five fresh fish at 10:06 AM on April 17, 2004

True about what FiveFreshFish said about the law, too. However, the easiest way is to go to board meetings and be really, really, really, really loud... but to make sense. If you say things that make sense...

Our condo association has some really dumb rules; one of them is that you can't drip anything off of your patio onto the patio below. Well, gee, really hard to wash the moss off of my patio without dribbling ... they sent me a notice that they were going to take action against me for doing it, I went to a board meeting and asked a lot of questions along the lines of, "Gee, what's your problem? When the condo association pays to pressure wash the building, you have dribbling water. I talked to my downstairs neighbors and they were fine with it for the hour I was going to be doing it. It didn't affect anyone 'cept the bylaws committee and the person all the way across the coutyard who saw me making my part of the building more attractive. So, please tell me, what's the problem." "You broke the rule." "If I broke the rule, who did I affect by breaking the rule?" "Your downstairs neighbors." "I already said they were OK with it and I didn't affect them." "You still broke the rule." "Well, if I didn't clean my patio, I'd be in violation of this other rule that says you need to keep your patio cleaned off. Which, by the way, I believe that you're in violation of."

It kind of stopped there. The meeting after that I got the board to take a vote of all homeowners to get rid of the stupid gas grill ban that's been in effect for twenty years. It'll be interesting to see what happens when the ballot comes back. That, by the way, is another good way -- check your bylaws, there's gotta be a way to force the HOA to take a vote of members on a rules amendment.

Now, the other thing that a lawyer would be able to help with ... the HOA in my building needs to give one warning before they can fine on each particular issue. This may be a legal requirement. I'm sure a lawyer would be able to find out what parts of the bylaws wouldn't stand up in court...
posted by SpecialK at 2:01 PM on April 17, 2004

I will never, ever live in a place that is controlled by a HOA. So no co-ops for me either. I will live by the laws of my nation, state, city, but not arbitrary rules created by my "neighbors."

We Americans seem to have built ourselves gated communities all over the US where HOA's run amok with nonsense rules and petty fines.

I'd much rather take my chances in the "real" world than deal with the homogeneity and silly rule-making of these so-called HOAs. To voluntarily move into a community run by them just seems insane.
posted by gen at 9:11 AM on April 18, 2004

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