Category Archives: HOAs in the News

HOA prohibits small sign that simply says “Jesus” on homeowner’s property

Sign controversy

Story by Ken Amaro/WTLV — story with video is here.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Four years ago Sarah Phillips moved into her home in Jacksonville Sutton Lakes neighborhood.

Phillips posted a Jesus sign in her yard and there was no reaction from anyone until she received a letter from the Sutton Lakes Homeowners Association telling her that having it in her yard is a violation of the covenant

“We’ve had it out about a month. We haven’t had any complaints from the neighbors,” said Phillips. “It is basically telling us to remove the sign, under the bylaws,” she says.

Phillips said she did sign the Covenant, Conditions and Restrictions, or CCR, but never agreed to allow the free exercise of her religion to be prohibited.

“I did not give away my freedom of speech, religion, my rights as an American citizen,” says Phillips.

Taiana Marques lives in the same community and has a religious statue in her yard.

Marques said homeowners should have a right to express their faith.

“I think it is ridiculous, it shows who we are, our faith. I think it is just ridiculous they’re coming up with that,” says Marques.

The sign is hardly noticeable, but the violation notice says if Phillips does not remove it in three days, she is subject to fines of $100 a day.

Phillips says she plans to leave it where it is.

Bill Reno, property manager for the Sutton Lakes Homeowners Association said this month he has issued 30 complaints, and only one other for a religious sign.

“No signs are allowed except ‘For Sale’ or ‘For Rent’ signs. Religion has nothing to do with it. It is a deed restricted community, but rules are rules. It does truthfully, break my heart,” he says.

The ACLU says that even though it cannot comment on this specific case, it is entirely possible that the HOA has the authority to take down the sign.

Texas HOAs continue war against animals

Video here.  While one HOA in Texas bars Wilbur the pig (here), another allows deer hunting in the community …

LIBERTY HILL, Texas (by Doug Shupe KXAN, full story here) – An activity taking place in a Williamson County community is pitting neighbors against neighbors, and some say it is threatening lives.

Several residents said the Liberty Hill Sundance Ranch Property Owners Association is violating its own rules by allowing bow hunting of deer. Now, one homeowner has filed a lawsuit.

In most respects, Liberty Hill Sundance Ranch is picture-perfect, quiet, countryside living where 277 homes sit on lots ranging from 2.5 to 10 acres.

“It’s a wonderful community,” said homeowner Neina Moore.

Moore brought her family to the community because it seemed safe and secure.

“I moved out here so my boys could play in the yard,” said Moore.

But two years ago, she found an arrow just 10 feet away from her children’s playscape. Since then other neighbors have found arrows, too.

“It was right over there on my property next to my garage, where my son plays basketball,” said homeowner Todd Stephens.

Stephens moved to Liberty Hill Sundance Ranch so his daughter could have horses. After an arrow landed on his property this past November, he rarely puts their horses in the front pasture anymore.

“If an arrow can travel that distance from our street all the way down here then I’m not so sure my daughter on her horses are going to be safe,” said Stephens.

Last November, the association’s board of directors took a survey of residents and decided to allow bow hunting to control the deer population. The board’s deer committee received 60 Managed Land Deer Permits from Texas Parks & Wildlife which give landowners the state’s most flexible seasons and bag limits.

Some neighbors against the bow hunting argue the deer committee is made up of mostly hunters, an actual vote was never taken on bow hunting, a professional deer count was never done, and rules for the wildlife management plan are not being followed.

“It seems to have divided quite a few. I know friends that used to be friends aren’t friends,” said Stephens.

Opponents say the board’s decision was not about controlling deer, but rather giving hunters the right to do what they want on their own property.

“It seems like there is a group of individuals that just want to hunt that’s the perception, I don’t know if that’s reality,” said Stephens.

“I’m worried that the hunting activity will increase to the point where we have an accident cause the acreages are too small,” said Moore.

Bow hunting opponents also say the property owners’ association’s insurance carrier cancelled the policy when it learned bow hunting was taking place.

“It’s an action that’s big enough to cause them not to want to have to spend money if an accident occured and to me, that says it’s dangerous,” said Stephens.

A homeowner has filed suit saying the board’s decision violates the community’s own Declaration of Covenants, Conditions & Restrictions, which states, “No activities shall be conducted on the Property and no improvements shall be constructed or allowed to remain on the Property which are or might be unsafe or haszardous to any person or any property.”

A judge will determine whether bowhunting violates the community’s rules–meanwhile the neighbors hope their peaceful way of country living will return.

“I think the people that hunt are for the most part good people, but accidents happen and it can kill somebody,” said Stephens.

Story continues here, along with comments.

Houston HOA v. Wilbur the pig

Video here. Other information and a petition to keep Wilbur here.

by Courtney Zubowski / KHOU 11 News

HOUSTON—A local homeowner is fighting to keep her precious pet.

Wilbur the pig is beloved by his owner, but not so popular with some neighbors.

“It’s really emotional, because we’ve gotten attached to him,” said Wilbur’s owner, Missy Sardo.

The Sardo family’s home is located in the 3400 block of Fir Forest Dr. in The Thicket subdivision.

Last week, they received a letter from their homeowner’s association informing them their 60-pound, 8-month-old pot-bellied pig would have to go. They were given 30 days to find him a new home.

“I just like playing with him,” said Missy’s 5-year-old son, Michael. “I will feel sad because he’s so cute and I’ll miss him.”

According to their neighborhood’s deed restrictions, no animals or livestock that are raised or bred can be kept on the lot.

The family was told neighbors had complained to Community Asset Management, a property management company, about the pig.

“One of the complaints was that he roots in your backyard, and I said, ‘So? It’s my backyard,’ and he said, ‘The other complaint was that they smell,’ and I said, ‘He doesn’t smell, they have no sweat glands, they smell better than most dogs who’ve been outside,’” said Sardo.

At a homeowner’s association meeting Monday night, Sardo said she was told if she had 51 percent of the 250 homeowners in The Thicket community sign a petition agreeing to allow the pig, they could change the deed restrictions.

Her family plans to go door-to-door to fight for their pet.

“Hopefully, I can get them to change their mind and it will set the way for other people if they want it,” said Sardo.

Most neighbors KHOU 11 News spoke with said they would sign the petition.

“I think it’s stupid,” said neighbor Molly Lesmeister. “It’s a pig. It lives inside. It goes outside to go to the potty. I don’t think it matters.”

The Sardo family has also set up a Facebook page for their pig.

“He has more friends than I do, I think,” said Missy Sardo.

The pig’s 30 days run out in early August. Calls to the Community Asset Management company were not returned.

Neighbor vs. Neighbor as HOA fights get ugly

Story by Michelle Conlin and Tamara Lush, AP Business Writers, On Thursday July 7, 2011, 4:24 pm EDT, complete story here.
The Inlet House condo complex in Fort Pierce, Fla., was once the kind of place the 55-and-older set aspired to. It was affordable. The pool and clubhouse were tidy, the lawns freshly snipped. Residents, push-carts in tow, walked to the beach, the bank, the beauty parlor, the cinema and the supermarket. In post-crash America, this was a dreamy little spot. Especially on a fixed income.

But that was Inlet House before the rats started chewing through the toilet seats in vacant units and sewage started seeping from the ceiling. Before condos that were worth $79,000 four years ago sold for as little as $3,000. And before the homeowners’ association levied $6,000 assessments on everyone — and then foreclosed on seniors who couldn’t pay the association bill, even if they didn’t owe the bank a dime.

Normally, it’s the bankers who go after delinquent homeowners. But in communities governed by the mighty homeowners’ association, as the sour economy leaves more people unable to pay their fees, it’s neighbor versus neighbor.

“What the board is doing is trying to foreclose on people to force people out the door,” says Mike Silvestri, 75, who stopped paying his dues at Inlet House in protest over what he considers unnecessary and unaffordable assessments.

He and others say there were cheaper ways to deal with the rat infestation and leaky sewage that led the board to order up a costly plumbing overhaul. “They are bamboozling old people. I’m old, but I’m not senile,” he says.

In the past, housing associations have gained infamy for dictating everything from the weight of your dog (one mandated a diet for a hound) to whether you can kiss in your driveway (not if you don’t want a fine). Homeowners’ associations have served as the behavior police, banning lemonade stands, solar panels and hanging out in the garage. One ordered a war hero to take down his flag because of a “nonconforming” pole. Another demanded that residents with brown spots on their lawns dye their grass green.

Now, past the faux regal gates, beyond the clubhouses, many property owners in associations owe more than their homes are worth. Some are struggling to pay their bills after they lose a job. Others have had their pay cut. So they’ve stopped paying their association dues.

To combat the rise in delinquencies, boards are switching off utilities, garnishing income and axing cable. They are yanking pool passes and banning the billiard room. And, in the most extreme cases, they are foreclosing.

“The treacherous part is that homeowners’ associations are acting like a local government without restraints, and they have this extraordinary power,” says Marjorie Murray, a lawyer and founder of the Center for California Homeowner Association Law.

Today, one in five U.S. homeowners is subject to the will of the homeowners’ association, whose boards oversee 24.4 million homes. More than 80 percent of newly constructed homes in the U.S are in association communities.

And of the nation’s 300,000 homeowners’ associations, more than 50 percent now face “serious financial problems,” according to a September survey by the Community Association Institute. An October survey found that 65 percent of homeowners’ associations have delinquency rates higher than 5 percent, up from 19 percent of associations in 2005.

Associations set rules for their communities. They levy monthly dues, typically between $200 and $500, and cover the costs of services that a municipal government usually takes care of: road repair, streetlights, sewage systems. If an association’s budget is strained or major repairs need to be done, the board can levy a “special assessment” on top of those dues. And when one homeowner doesn’t pay those fees, all the other homeowners have to pick up the cost.

The rise in delinquencies comes as banks are taking over foreclosed homes and then leaving them vacant more often than ever. Taken together, these shortfalls are resulting in higher fees for all of the other homeowners — and massive financial angst for association boards.

Before now, associations rarely, if ever, foreclosed on homeowners. But today, encouraged by a new industry of lawyers and consultants, boards are increasingly foreclosing on people 60 days past due on association fees, says Evan McKenzie, a former homeowner association attorney who is now a University of Illinois political science professor and the author of the book “Beyond Privatopia: Rethinking Residential Private Government.”

The government does not keep statistics on how often homeowners’ associations initiate foreclosures. But a nonprofit research group found that association-initiated foreclosures in the Houston area jumped from 500 in 1995 to 2,200 in 2007. Most association-related foreclosures in Texas do not go through the judicial process, so the group’s analysis represented only a fraction of the foreclosures that housing associations have initiated.

In exchange for adhering to the rules, homeowners got safe communities with clubhouses, pools and tennis courts. But what many didn’t realize when they bought their homes was that the fine print gave the association the right to foreclose — even over a few hundred dollars in unpaid dues.

All the association board has to do is alert its attorney to place a lien on the property to start the process. The home can then be auctioned by the board until the bank eventually takes ownership. Homeowners typically have no right to a hearing.

“These are banana republics,” McKenzie says.

The problems in some communities are resulting in more scrutiny. In Nevada, the FBI is investigating corruption in elections of association boards. In Utah and Arizona, legislators are trying to pass bills that would root out the use of debt-collectors who are alleged to have used thug-like tactics to strongarm residents into paying fees.

State legislatures in California, Arizona, North Carolina, Texas and Florida have taken up legislation that would clamp down on foreclosures.

Not everyone thinks the tactics are out of line, though.

“When people are not paying their assessments, they’re not shortchanging some giant multinational corporation. They are taking money directly out of the pockets of their neighbors,” says Andrew Fortin, head of government affairs for the trade group the Community Associations Institute.

So the neighborhood feuds are escalating. At Inlet House, one resident claims her fellow senior citizens have turned into vigilantes, vandalizing her car in retaliation for not paying her dues.

In all, 17 of the 60 units are in various stages of delinquency. Paul Gray, a fastidious budgeter, paid off his mortgage long ago and paid all but $2,500 of the Inlet House assessment. The association initiated foreclosure proceedings. A few days after he received the foreclosure notice, Gray suffered another stroke, three friends say. Now he is in a nursing home. He has since paid off the $2,500. His home, worth $89,000 in 2006, is for sale for $18,500.

In the meantime, the board, facing $172,000 in costs from nonpayers, has had no choice but to raise dues by an extra $50 a month to an average of $375. Between the assessment and increased dues, some residents complain that they pay more than they would to rent a plush oceanfront spread down the street at the posh Fontainebleau condo complex. Association manager Janice Stinnett, who is also an Inlet House resident, says she isn’t to blame, the nonpayers are.

“It’s unfair that everyone is paying extra to cover these deadbeats,” she says.

The board is continuing to make the plumbing repairs that made the assessments necessary to begin with. It will soon issue another special assessment to cover the costs.

To homeowners who opposed the repairs on the grounds that they were too expensive, the entire picture adds up to a crime. Says Silvestri, “What these associations are doing is illegal. It’s a fraud.”

Texas HOA demands green grass in a drought


Story by Joe Conger / KENS 5

SAN ANTONIO –With 100-degree, hot, dry days, Armando Urdiales decided to plant a new lawn.

Well, not really. It was his HOA, he said, that suggested it, after they found patches of dirt amongst the withered blades in his front yard.

Urdiales said, “That was the kicker for me. Really? You’re going to tell me to grow grass in a drought.”

The social studies teacher says after receiving two, threatening letters in the last 60-days, he planted $150 worth of sod and started watering it.

“Isn’t there a better use of our resource–of our precious resource of water–other than maintaning grass?” he said.

The Crown Meadows HOA didn’t return our calls.

SAWS officials say they have yet to see any homeowner deed restrictions that demand homeowners keep their lawns green. And as a public water utility, SAWS has no jurisdiction over HOAs.

But the utility is asking all associations to think of brown grass as the new green, at least for now in stage-2 restrictions.

HOA Attorney Fees: An Unconscionable Racket

Here is another clip, here.

Behind on property taxes?  The government does not sue over a few hundred bucks, ever.  The government does not slap the homeowner with thousands in attorney fees even if they file suit to recover.  The government is not quick to sue residential homeowners occupying a home.

Not true with HOAs.  They have a vastly different property tax (they like to call them “assessment”) collection scheme designed to make even more money.  HOAs have a close relationship with private attorneys that result in homeowners getting fleeced.  HOA management companies sign up attorneys eager to sue, and charge homeowners thousands when the amount in dispute is a few hundred dollars.  HOAs love the money the attorneys collect and turn a blind eye to the fact that the attorney fees dwarf the amount the homeowner is behind.  HOA boards may not even realize their management companies and attorneys intentionally design a system to make more money with installment agreements with extra fees and charges added each month.  To make matters worse some HOA attorneys pad their bills by charging attorney time when a legal secretary or paralegal merely changes a few names on form lawsuits these HOA attorneys file regularly in court.  These billing practices are likely fraudulent, but some courts often protect attorneys who submit such fee requests because these fee awards can come back in campaign contributions.  And disputing HOAs over such practices is very dangerous because if you fight, the HOA attorney just adds more time to his bill.  Only homeowners willing to take huge risks fight HOAs.  The HOA attorneys know they have the upper hand and they are not bashful about exploiting homeowners across the state.

The public would not stand for this scheme if it were standard property tax collection activities — but hopefully the Texas Legislature will weigh in this year on this issue.

HOA late fees and attorney fees prevent homeowner from catching up


Posted on April 6, 2011 at 10:20 PM

We’ve heard the complaints for years now… complaints about homeowners’ associations that have gained  too much power, even foreclosing on homes for non-payment of dues, fees and fines.

But state lawmakers may be about to strip some of that power away.

Glen Greer of Frisco, who visits his chiropractor several times a week, is desperate for relief.

A chronic back ailment has not only limited his mobility, it has hampered his ability to work and pay his bills on time, including $89 in quarterly dues to his homeowners’ association.

Although Greer says he is current on all his association dues, he is being hit with late fees, attorneys fees, fines, and interest totaling more than $700.

“But because I didn’t pay exactly on time, they slammed me with fees and they kept multiplying them and — of course — I just kept paying my dues, assuming my dues were being paid,” Greer said. “Come to find out they are not. I can never catch up.”

When he asked his HOA for financial relief, he received a letter informing him he was being awarded a $30 credit.

But farther down in the same letter, Greer was informed of a $25 “payment plan processing fee”  which all but wiped out the credit.

See the complete story and the video here.

Texas House Committee Lashes Out Against HOAs

A House committee challenged homeowners associations Monday to consider greater concessions, with lawmakers using their harshest tone yet against groups resistant to compromise.

“At least register so we know who the hell you are,” said Rep. Burt Solomons, R-Carrollton, taking aim at association representatives’ resistance to tighter monitoring regulations. “At the end of the day, we can’t seem to get here with these groups.”

Calling associations “at least quasigovernmental,” Rep. Dwayne Bohac, R-Houston, said that “the scales are still tilted to HOA protections.”

And Rep. Helen Giddings, D-DeSoto, bemoaned a decade and a half of lawmaker discussions with little progress.

“This committee is really challenged,” said Giddings, the longest-serving member of the Business and Industry Committee. “The House could name a standing committee just to deal with HOA issues. That’s how many we have. And it seems like we just don’t move on.”

The story continues here … but remember what legislators say in public and how they vote can be different when push comes to shove.  While legislators may feel more HOA reform is needed and say so publicly, in the end many legislators have other priorities they are unwilling to sacrifice in order to take a stand against the well-financed HOA lobbyists, lawyers, and more importantly the Texas builders who impose HOAs on subdivisions as a funding source.


Houston Homeowner Organizes to Challenge Abusive HOAs

HOUSTON — Texas lawmakers are about weigh in on whether homeowner associations wield too much power.

Lawmakers agreed to take a closer look at HOAs after hundreds of residents across the state said the associations “scared them out of money.”

“My biggest concern is that the HOA[s] don’t respect the voice of the homeowners,” said Sherman Malveuax, a Houston homeowner who recently started a petition to oust the board of his Wood Meadow II neighborhood.

HOAs can regulate everything from the color of a home to aspects of its landscaping.


HOA fines noisy toddler $1,600

DALLAS – A homeowners association with a history of conflicts with residents is under fire again. This time a young couple says they’ve been fined because their toddler is too noisy.

Peter and Abbey Ure own a condo in Woodlands II on the Creek. Life there has taken an unexpected turn after the addition of their son, Sawyer.

The couple said in October their downstairs neighbor began complaining about Sawyer.

“We can hear you chasing him. It’s really loud,” Abbey Ure said. “They could hear his balls bouncing, his wheeled toys, anything that was loud.”

Since then, the Ures have tried to keep it quiet by moving Sawyer’s toys to the second floor and putting rugs and a mattress top down on the first floor.

But in January their HOA sent them a warning stating there were complaints about their child running, jumping and bouncing a ball which was disturbing other residents. The letter said if the complaints continued they would get a $50 fine.

“Woodlands II was built many years ago as an adult development and we do not have any play areas for children,” the letter said. “It’s possible that your child could play on the second story of your unit without causing complaints, but not the first floor. However, any activity on the second floor must not disturb other residents.”

The HOA is the same one that in 2009 told disabled veteran Frank Larison he could not display military decals on his vehicle because they are advertisements that violate HOA rules. (story here)

The Ures said they’ve walked on pins and needles, disciplining their son any time he starts jumping or running. They’ve also tried working with their downstairs neighbor, but he won’t talk to them.

“We’ve made a big investment. You know, this is our dream. We love our apartment,” Peter Ure said. “We are doing our very, very best to mitigate the sound and try to make it as quiet and peaceful for our downstairs neighbor as possible. I don’t know what else to do”.

The Ures had a hearing before the HOA board in February to address 33 complaints against them. They were fined more than $1,600, which was later reduced to $250.