Owning a home has been the traditional American dream, but succumbing to the iron-fisted rule of a homeowners association on a power trip can quickly turn that dream into a nightmare.
Recent activities inside some local HOAs have led some home-owners to ask what rights they have when the elected board of directors is making questionable decisions for the community.
The answer can be somewhat discouraging when HOAs are compared to elected officials or a corporation. A homeowner is considered a voter or stockholder, but the power lies with those directed to make decisions on the community’s behalf.
Laws, rules and regulations are oftentimes established to help the HOA and the community management firm hired to oversee operations.
Fines can be levied, attorneys are retained to enforce payment, and as collateral, there have been cases where the home is taken due to unpaid fines. Fines are levied for the wrong house colors, weeds, trash cans in the street and anything else outlined in the community’s Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions, otherwise referred to as CC&Rs.
“Oftentimes the CC&Rs do dictate what members can vote on,” said Wendy Ehrlich, a Tucson homeowner association attorney. “Board members have the right to sometimes implement special assessment fees or increase assessments.”
The Sunflower Community Association continues to work on sorting out the legalities of a $65,000 contact signed by outgoing board members to build a pickleball court.
In that case, many residents thought the March election where many voted against the proposal spoke loud and clear; however,
wording in the community’s CC&Rs allowed the board to implement a special one-time assessment fee of $47 to build the court.
The contract to build the court was signed days before three board members resigned rather than facing a recall.
Just like elected politicians, most homeowners can recall board members who are not meeting performance standards. A recall may be the greatest power homeowners wield inside an association.
“In Arizona, members also have the right to attend board meetings and voice concerns,” said Ehrlich. “Ultimately, homeowners must elect the right people to manage their HOA.”
However, like many politicians, some will say the power that comes with the position can change people.
A study conducted by Nevada psychology professor Gary Solomon suggested that oversight over a homeowner’s living conditions creates a two-tailed psychiatric disorder called “HOA Syndrome.”
Talking about his experience inside an HOA in Las Vegas, Solomon said, “I learned that residents, primarily principal homeowners, were living in a war zone, not identifiable by bombs, guns and burning buildings. Rather, a war zone masterfully orchestrated by a few fellow homeowners attempting to control their companion neighbors while making a few bucks on the side and gaining sadistic pleasure from watching their neighbors live in pain.”
While Solomon statement describes the most extreme result of an HOA’s power, others will say they are satisfied with their board of directors who aren’t out to spend a lot, increase fees and spend money on projects homeowners don’t want. Many boards are elected to just maintain a certain level of quality in the community.
In the end, Ehrlich said, while homeowners may not have voting powers, they do have the power to initiate recalls and make sure their voices are heard by speaking up at meetings, sending emails and being outspoken about projects at hand.