Those who choose to live in homeowners' association communities may tick off a list of many positives, including nicely manicured lawns, houses painted in complimentary colors, neighborhood amenities like swimming pools and well-maintained sidewalks and trails. Our real estate attorneys recognize the goal is to protect property values and also foster goodwill among neighbors. According to the Community Associations Institute, homeowners' associations, co-ops and condominium communities comprise an increasing chunk of the market. In fact, 1 in 5 Americans are members of these associations - or 67 million people. Compare that to 1970, when only 2.1 million Americans were members of such communities.
There are reasons why it works, but disputes may arise when rules are far too stringent, arbitrary or even dangerous.
Last year, the Kansas City Star launched a six-month investigation into the increase of housing associations in that state and beyond and the problems that arose as a result. Reprinted by The Sacramento Bee, one of the cases highlighted involved parents who became embroiled in a battle with their homeowner association over blinds that nearly killed their daughter. They had laid their 3-year-old daughter down for bedtime when a short time later, they heard their older daughter scream. They rushed to the room to find their younger daughter hanging from the window, the cord from the blinds around her neck. She was gasping for air. Although they were quickly able to intervene (the father was a surgeon), they understandably refused to reinstall the old blinds. The homeowners' association bucked back.
The incident left the family deeply shaken. There was no way the blinds were going back up. They instead hung curtains on the window. But within just two weeks, they received a letter from the homeowners' association: Either put the blinds back up (with a device that keeps the cord out-of-reach for children) or install shutters that cost $500 each. The family balked.
Eventually, the dispute came down to this: Put the blinds up, install cordless shutters, petition the HOA board to change the rules, move or file a lawsuit. Eventually, the family decided to move rather than continue to fight the rule.
A survey conducted by the Coalition for Community Housing Policy in Public Interest (a think-tank founded with the purpose of curbing HOA abuses and analyzing HOA disputes), found that 70 percent of respondents had been involved in a difficult-to-resolve dispute with their condo or home association. Nearly 85 percent said a lack of transparency and poor communication was a serious problem in their communities.
Among some of the examples given by respondents: A homeowner who received as "cease-and-desist" letter for cutting the grass before the property manager got to it and a homeowner who was fined $100 a day for a white picket fence and a 5-foot windmill that eventually forced him into foreclosure, even though he'd paid the association some $50,000.
Common HOA Disputes
Some of the other issues indicated to be "very serious problems" those pertaining to:
- Rental restrictions
- Construction deficits
- Financial mismanagement
- Power of board to foreclose
- Maintenance of major infrastructures
- High assessments
Any one of these issues can quickly snowball into a serious problem.
Our Newport Beach HOA dispute attorneys are committed to helping you reach a favorable solution in your dispute. Although homeowner associations do wield considerable power under the Davis-Stirling Act, you do have rights and avenues of effective recourse in many cases. Often the involvement of an attorney helps to legitimize your position, and can often prompt an amicable resolution without litigation. Outcomes will be dependent upon the individual facts of each case.