a problem with your homeowner’s association?
I’ve been working as a
homeowner rights activist for several years.
I’ve made presentations to the Arizona HOA Study Committee and several
legislative committees on HOA reform bills as well as publishing extensively on
the Internet. I had a problem with my association, like you, and found out that
I was on my own.
First, let me say that
I’ve heard the homeowners present their problems before the Arizona
legislators, before a special hearing by Nevada state senators and over the
Internet by means of several HOA advocacy email lists. Your problem will be
like these, except for the details. You are not alone.
I’ve seen and heard our
legislators walk away with, “We don’t want to hear any more horror stories. We
will be going slowly so as not to upset
those associations that are doing things right”. The media has also ignored the basic issues that are resulting in
these wide-spread problems with HOAs, and focus on isolated stories that do not
convey the fundamental democratic problems with these private governments.
My opinions and views as
to how to handle your problem are given
below. I tell it as I see it, no glossing over the issues.
Background on HOA problems
In short, you are on your
own. Since the courts view the CC&Rs as a valid contract, that you entered
into openly and with knowledge, they
will hold you to it. If you failed to read the CC&Rs and
bylaws, or failed to get an attorney, the courts still hold you bound to the contract no matter if it strips you of
your rights guaranteed under the Constitution.
Our Constitution prevents the state from interfering with private
contracts, so neither the Attorney General nor county prosecutor are of any help. The courts will read the CC&Rs to which
you are bound, that are heavily slanted in favor of an unregulated board of
directors, and usually decide against
you. If you win, after spending several
thousands of dollars, you simply get the information requested from the board,
or that the meeting must be open, etc. No penalties or fines to act as a
deterrent to further such acts by the board.
The reasons why are long
and numerous that I will skip here. The general attitude promoted in the public toward HOA problems is 1)
follow the rules or move out, 2) you are trying to back out of a contract and 3) use the democratic processes in
your HOA to remove the board of directors. These are myths and over
simplifications as you well know. Yet, the media publishes these “solutions”
from those who are creating the problems. A sad state of affairs.
Possible solutions to your problem
Let me say at the very beginning that many homeowners don’t
realize the extent of the powers of the HOA over their lives. Many of the complaints brought against the
HOA are just that – an exercise of its “legal” powers. When the exercise of these powers becomes
capricious, or vindictive to punish a
troublemaker, or for personal reasons, or are violations of state laws or the
governing documents, then you have a legitimate grievance. The advice given below is for these type of
- First, the advice you get from the newspaper
columns are generally provided by CAI attorney members whose objectives
are to maintain the status
quo. They will quote existing laws
that provide for undemocratic, private corporation -- HOAs – to govern
your community. These laws are strongly in favor of the HOA board of
directors and provide no
homeowners bill of rights. These
CAI members will also provide platitudes and advise you about such things
as ‘work it out with the board”, or “vote the board out”. All of which
will generally get you nowhere with rogue boards.
defense of these accusations, I usually reply with a pattern of repeated
behavior of deceptive marketing practices is being used to hide the truth
from unsuspecting homeowners. Neither the legislatures, nor the media, nor
the enforcement officials, nor the Realtor associations are interested in
calling these practices to the attention of the public.
- CAI, Community Associations Institute, has
opposed homeowner rights and American principles of justice and equal protection
of the laws. It’s a business trade group that supports the profit-making
interests of its attorney and management firm members, and heavily lobbies state
legislatures. If CAI is involved
with your HOA, you will have a very difficult time of it.
- The authority for the HOA to act comes from
the CC&Rs and the bylaws, generally referred to as the governing
documents. You must read them and
understand them. They are “the rules of the game”. State laws also come into play and can
be used, too. Just don’t expect any enforcement from state officials.
- Sometimes it’s possible to rally the
indifferent and apathetic association members to hold special meetings and
to replace the rogue board of directors. You need to follow the governing
- Document all your correspondence with the HOA
and HOA attorney. If charged with
violations and fined, ask for proof of such violations and be prepared to
defend your innocence. Be polite
and no personal attacks. Keep to the facts. Quote the governing documents
and state laws, and ask for explanations, or to support your requests to
- Sometimes the Fair Debts Collections
Practices Act, federal law, can be brought to play if fined and you
dispute the fine or the harassment. HOAs are regarded as any other debt
collector and must follow this law.
Sometimes the American Disabilities Act can come into play, if appropriate. It’s unlawful to
file a false lien against anyone, so you can advise your board
- Publicity and exposure help to quiet these
outrageous boards. Try the
“investigative reporters” or distribute a newsletter to the members.
- WARNING! Almost everyone of these rogue
HOAs, based on the experiences of many others, will resort to “hardball”
tactics, even unethical actions. Other
homeowners have reported false fines, liens, foreclosure threats,
harassment, threats, animosity from other members and a general state of
“us against them”. If you are not ready to deal with these possible
reactions, then go along or move out. Sorry, that’s the bottom line.
- If you decide to fight back, you may need an
attorney and go to court to settle the issue. It is very difficult to find
a competent HOA attorney willing to go against the HOA. The reasons are 1)
the HOA has “deep pockets” and pays more often, 2) the attorney doesn’t
want to be “black-balled by the HOAs, and 3) you need a retainer of a few
thousand just to get the ball
rolling. Your HOA attorney will
not help you, but will defend the acts of the HOA, and many times, provide
“roadblocks” to prevent having to
admit that the board is violating either the governing documents or
- An excellent book on how to deal with your
HOA is written by a board member with an eye toward good community
relations. The book, Homeowners Associations: A Nightmare or a Dream
Come True?, by Joni Greenwalt,
can be reviewed on my site with a link to the author’s site, at http://pvtgov.org/ and click on Books. I receive no remuneration for this
- GOOD LUCK. You
may contact me over the Internet and I will try to help. I AM NOT A LAWYER
AND I DON’T GIVE LEGAL ADVICE.
George K. Staropoli
Private Government HOAs