HOAs: Look before you leap if ‘property freedom’ is your thing


Different strokes. Some people invest their hard-earned money into a lovely neighborhood and then hope against hope that everyone else there carries the same amount of pride in their surroundings not only for aesthetic purposes, but also to keep property values as high as possible. Thus, the reason homeowners associations — HOAs — were created.

Others rail against an HOA when they feel it has overstepped its bounds and see it as an evil entity whose motives can seem punitive and predatory — as if the fines it levies on residents amount to extortion.

Realtor.com’s Julie Taylor tells stories of hostile environments, ornery, controlling neighbors, and anger-infused management. And many real estate professionals agree that people on the boards are on a total power trip and use that to advance their own desires.

So says Englewood, FL’s Kristen D. Conti, who recalls a personal encounter with such an HOA: “They came and measured the length of the grass, and if it was half an inch too long, we would get fined,” Conti says. “Here in the summer in Florida, grass grows quickly. So it can be half an inch too long just three days after being cut. It was a constant headache.”

Taylor offers three more examples of HOAs behaving badly:

  • A New Palestine, IN, a homeowner got an unwelcome surprise when an HOA board member went into his yard and defecated on the side of his house not once, but twice—and it was caught on camera. The woman told authorities she had no personal agenda against the homeowner, but simply had to use the restroom. She was charged with criminal trespass, criminal mischief, and public nudity, and was made to step down from the HOA board.

  • A Missouri mother who painted her two young daughters’ swing set purple at their request was told two years later that the color was not one included in the community’s color palette. It ordered her to dismantle the swing set or face fines or jail time. She took the HOA to court—and a judge ruled in her favor.

  • A Florida family decided to put up their holiday decorations on Nov. 6, the only day their light installer was available and subsequently got a notice from their HOA saying they weren’t allowed to decorate until after Thanksgiving. The penalty? $100 per day up to a max of $1,000. The homeowners refused to take their display down on principle alone, and accused the HOA of being a “Grinch.”

HOAs were never designed to push the boundaries and lead to unnecessary stress and conflict for homeowners. But these groups can sometimes become overzealous, dictating minor details of homeowners’ lives and infringing on their right to quiet enjoyment of their property.

States fighting back against overbearing HOAs include Florida and Michigan. Florida’s bill known as HB 1203 just went into effect on July 1, draining some power from homeowners associations. There, HOAs will no longer be able to restrict people from parking in their own driveway or on public streets. And HOAs won’t be able to stop people from parking work cars in their driveway anymore, apart from commercial vehicles. No more fining residents for leaving trash cans out on garbage day, and rules about structures within backyards have been softened. If you want a purple swing set, paint away as long as it can’t be seen from a neighboring property, from the street, or from a common area.

Those residents concerned about property values going down? Proponents of this relaxation of the rules believe that over time, homeowners will come to appreciate the freedom and flexibility this law provides.

In Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed the Homeowners’ Energy Policy Act into law blocking HOAs from prohibiting residents from having rooftop solar panels, electric vehicle chargers, clotheslines, rain barrels, and other energy-saving equipment in their homes or on their properties.

Bottom line? When you’re handed all that paperwork to review when purchasing a home in a given community, read HOA rules and regulations carefully so you know exactly what you’re getting into. If you feel you’ve been wronged by your HOA, write a letter to the HOA management company and copy each member of the HOA board.

No relief? Consider the assistance of a real estate attorney or mediator. You just might need one to reach a peaceful resolution.

Realtor, TBWS

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NEXA Mortgage

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