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WHAT YOUR HOMEOWNERS ASSOCIATIONS CAN AND CAN NOT DO

Updated on September 4, 2013

Have you ever heard the statement: When you marry someone you also marry the family? In a way, when you buy a house, you also buy the problems with the homeowners association. Home owners association have two edges, they can be a powerful tool for homeowners to preserve the value of their properties, or...they can be a nightmare.

I bought my second home about 3 years ago. I live in a nice, quiet neighborhood surrounded by families, where only the men work and the women stay home. I am not that lucky, my husband abandoned us three years ago, and I am the only income in my household. Me and my 16 year old learned to live within a very tide budget, because my ex-husband does not pay child support either.

We take care of our yard, the best we can. However, when we moved here, we didn't notice the bad quality of the land in this subdivision. Weed grows overnight everywhere, and it is so strong that even when one of my neighbors covered his yard with plastic one time (out of desperation I guess) the weed grew right through the plastic! The grass won't grow regardless the effort and the chemicals you use to help it grow. Nothing seems to work to correct this problem!

A couple of years ago, I received my first letter from the HOA, and I felt like some kind of criminal. Whoever wrote the letter threatened me with fees and penalties, if I didn't do "something" with my yard. According to the letter, I was obligated to make my yard look attractive to the eyes of potential buyers for the other units being built in the subdivision.

My first reaction was complete panic, especially when I read about the fees and penalties. Living in a tide budget, I couldn' t afford any additional expenses (like sod) to keep my yard "attractive", and nevertheless to pay the fees mentioned on the letter. The following week, me and my son were on our hands and knees on the yard, trying to plant some flowers. My son cut the grass, and we spread some mulch around the trees. We thought we had accomplished a wonderful job!

Or so we thought, because a week later another letter arrived this time even nastier than the first one. "We noticed you left the garbage can outside overnight, even when the garbage was picked up yesterday", and then they proceeded to warn me again about possible fees, if this violation was not corrected immediately. At this point I felt targeted, was anyone just watching my house 24/7 to catch me on something?

The following month I receive a third letter in reference to my yard again. This time they stated that due to non compliance to the first letter, I would be penalized 100 dollars, for every day the violation was not corrected. At this point I was in tears, and grabbed the phone to call the HOA. As usual, the answering machine picked up. A sweet old lady's voice, advised me to leave a message, and said at the very end "God bless you". I thought that was kind of sarcastic, taking in consideration the way they were constantly bullying me.

I left a very short but firm message, I said: "I would correct the problem the best I can" and I added that I couldn't pay any fees, "I am going through hardship, and what you are doing is harassing me, if this continues I will get a lawyer. And by the way,,, God bless you too!" I concluded.

A complete silence followed this message for a month or two. No more letters and no phone calls either. Until one afternoon, when while checking my mail box, I found an envelope from HOA. I couldn't believe my eyes! They had placed a lien on my property for unpaid fees. The fees were 2,500 dollars! Were they out of their mind? The notice of lien was attached to the letter, advising that if the fees were not paid accordingly, they could start foreclosure procedures on my home!

This time, I contacted a lawyer who advised me that the HOA could, indeed, enforced the statement on the letter. It was a “free consultation”, so I couldn't get any more information on how to proceed with this problem, unless I paid 150 dollars per hour for legal advise.

Overwhelmed, I decided that the best way to handle it, was to go in person to the HOA, and try to straight out this problem once and for all. As I suspected, an old lady was the only one in the office, and when I told her who I was, her smile just erased completely off her wrinkled face: “So, how can help you today?” She asked.

I started telling her about my hardship. I requested for the penalties to be abated, and also for the lien to be removed. Her eyes got bigger behind her thick glasses, and with a big old smile she said: “Not possible”. By the time I got home, I have decided I was going to fight back even if I had to pay an attorney.

I stayed awake all night searching for information on the internet. I found out that fighting an HOA was more complicated than I had thought. I read somewhere, for example, that Home Owners Association are corporations, which means they are protected against law suits. Literally, it read: “Associations provide services, regulate activities, levy assessments, and may, as delegated by the states legislature, impose fines. Unlike a municipal government, they are not subject to the constitutional constraints that public government must abide by. A homeowners' association can enforce its actions through the threat and levying of fines, and private legal action under civil law” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homeowner_association)

In other words, I was pretty much helpless on what they wanted to do to me. I was on my own, and with no money to pay the fees.

WHAT TO DO

Despite all my efforts to legally fight the HOA decision, my problem remained the same for 4 more months. Then, I realized that the only possible way to solve this situation, was to appeal directly to them through the Association's Grievance Committee. I prepared my own case with the allegation that I was going through hardship, and that I wasn't the only member of that community suffering the same problem with the lawn. I took pictures from different houses which lawns were as pitiful as mine, and I even called one of those lawn services companies, to do a free analysis of the dirt on my yard. By the time I got the results of the analysis, and put all my paperwork together, I received another letter from the HOA. The letter stated that my fees had increased due to late payment. However, there was no more threatening of foreclosure.

I found out that as long as I was still owing a mortgage to the bank, who was the first lien in my property, they could not overlap their right to foreclosure. In other words, the property was still owned by the bank, so they could not take what was not mine yet. Feeling a little bit better about the whole situation, I made an appointment with the grievance committee to appeal my case. They took 2 months to respond, only to tell me that: “Unfortunately, they were not able to reconsider the decision, and they suggested for me to pay the fees as soon as possible, to avoid future additional penalties”.

Today, 2 years later, I wish I would have had better legal advise about the whole situation. After I had to agree to make monthly payments for 2 years to comply with the fees, I found out that the HOA did not have the right to force me to place sod and flowers on my yard. They also did not have the right to impose fees based on an irrelevant request, and therefore they did not have the right either, to put a lien on my property. I could have sued them back then, but unfortunately I could not afford an attorney. A word of advise? Invest in one if you ever have this problem. There is a 50/50 chance that you might win the case, and if you do, then you can charge the HOA with the court and attorney fees as well, just like they do. Don't let your HOA bully you, they are supposed to work for you, not the other way. Make sure, you know your rights as a homeowner, and DO NOT let them intimidate you!

Remember, they have the time you don't, to write letter after letter to you, but that doesn't necessary mean, that what they say on the letters is legal. And if you are a future home buyer, please read carefully the part of the HOA in your documents before you sign anything, you might be buying a house, but in reality, the HOA will rule what you can, and cannot do with your own property.

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      Tired of Lazy Complainers 7 months ago

      In my opinion, it sounds like this lady should have devoted all her effort into fixing her lawn issues and not fighting with the HOA. The HOA is there to protect our property values. I am single parent that makes time to take care of my lawn and so should she! I get tired of hearing excuses why people can't comply with rules. We all have problems in our lives, but that doesn't give everyone a right to not follow the rules, make excuses, and not accept responsibility for our actions. If you can't comply with the rules of your neighborhood, then move!

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      Kristin 11 months ago

      Kristin G. from Redmond, OR

      I just moved into a new home a couple weeks ago. I got a nasty warning several hundred $$ penalization threat assessment because of out of control weeds in the alleys between homes several houses away from mine. My neighbor did not maintain her yard/weed pulling and I weeded every week. My yard is neat and orderly. Great welcome mat at the new neighborhood. They are venting lunacy, fining me for others' in the community and shooting blindly. I sent them picures and asked them to clarify if the raked manicured rock beds outside my home were the "weeds in the ally" that they complained about. No weeds are more than 1 inch on my property. They claimed to have sent previous warning, but I just got the first one today dated after I had done my weekly yard clean up and manicuring. Why do I have so much harassment so often? Its constant and my son and I are decades older from moving non-stop since he was born due to people's violent attitude and bullying us around. Its old.

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      Pissed Off 12 months ago

      HOA's are a bunch of bullies!!! The 'officers' have the only vote that counts when it comes to voting on things! That's BS! There's over 100 homes in here and a 'select' few get to vote and THEN give you not even 30 days to pay it RIGHT after the dues are due! They want the part timers to pay for the full timers benefits! Well.. it's NOT gonna happen! They can kiss our A$$!

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      Svn11 Hobo 15 months ago

      For 15 years 85 percent of the residents on our street have stored their garbage container(s) neatly tucked away by their fences. Yes you can see them from the street, but nobody has ever complained until now. We received a letter that we needed to hide our garbage bins out of sight behind the fence when it's not trash pickup day.

      None of our neighbors were doing it, so we ignored the letter. A second letter arrived today so we pushed our bin behind the fence...so you can't see it from the street. What sticks in my craw is that nobody else on our street has changed their trash bin habits...has the HOA decided to pick on us alone, have we been singled out? Nobody else is moving their trash bins so why do we have to?

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      Matt 2 years ago

      I'm on the other end of this. My house is on the market and I feel that my neighbors home appearance depreciates my home value. I juggle work, 4 kids but still find time to take care of what I need to take care of.

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      mina 2 years ago

      I pay more than 10000 dollars between lawyers and HOA fees one time, the hard money I saved for rainy days. I don't really know what their purpose . I don't like them at all. Yesterday I received a citation about my lawn again. I fell like I am going to let my house foreclosed and leave this property because the stress i am getting from them does't worth to own a house. I don't know why government let HOA to abuse hard working taxpayer citizens like this. why can't we do something about it???

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      debaz 2 years ago

      I sympathized with the writer until she was so dergtory about the woman on the HOA Board. The rules of the Association are or should be distributed with transfer of the property. Did the woman not know her duty to keep up her ysrd,? I don't understand why she did not respond to the first threat with a certified letter stating that she was not responsible for the yard per the documents, citing page and passage. If she was correct, she could then say that it was harassment if they continued to threaten her. My instinct is that she let her anger override her common sense.

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      Mark 3 years ago

      Bullying by governments of any kind, local, city, state, and especially federal is getting way out of hand. One day one of these workers, with their arrogant attitudes, is going to piss off the wrong person. And one day soon, we might just see the people rise up together and resist.

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      Rob 3 years ago

      I just open my mail today and found out that the HOA put a lien on my town home and I ow them over $1,500.00 dollars.

      This is ridiculous and I will go to the HOA meeting this month to at least tell them in their face that they are ripping people off.

      I will also get an attorney even if a have to pay the same amount of money but I will do something.

      I'm very frustrated because they do not do what needs to be done to maintain the good appearance of the buildings.

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      Chelsea 3 years ago

      I work for a HOA and it's horrible!! I'm literally forced to bully older people (the age range of our property owners is 60+) and I agree, they use their "power" to it's fullest extent! Our rules seem to change daily, and a lot of the time is seemingly dependent on the property owner in question. At least that is how it seems. Feel sick going to work everyday.