I Really Wish My HOA Would Go MIA

We knew what we were getting into when we purchased our home. It was a brand new house in a partially built community. Eight years later, construction is more than half complete and the neighborhood is well lived in. We have tree-lined streets flanked with magnolias, Bradford pears and crepe myrtles. Children play in their front yards and families stroll down the street walking their dogs. In many ways we live in a very Norman Rockwell-like setting. But (you knew there had to be one) we have to answer to a Homeowner’s Association (HOA). Even though we knew this going in, we’ve come to the conclusion that living with an HOA just plain sucks. That’s why I really wish my HOA would go MIA.

Our HOA is run by elected board members who make the rules. To enforce these rules, they have hired a management company. The management company, in turn, is assisted by at least one Glady Kravitz (i.e., resident snitch),

By now you’re aware of Mr. Groovy’s distaste for too much governance. I happen to be in agreement with him. Add HOA governance to federal, state and county—and it’s too restricting. The long arm of the law just seems to get longer. Our HOA rules cover things such as:

  • What color you can paint your house
  • What shrubbery you can plant in your front yard
  • What add-ons you can build on your house (porch, sunroom, outdoor kitchen, bonus room)
  • Where you can and cannot park
  • What you can and cannot park (no RVs, boats, or motorcycles in your driveway)

Then there are the annoyances of living among neighbors whose houses are on top of one another. We have six feet between our home and the two surrounding us. Even though we have excellent neighbors, we still must deal with:

  • Noise from parties
  • Cigarette smoke
  • Walls reverberating from music
  • Barking dogs

Honestly, our neighbors are very considerate. They’re just living their lives and minding their own business, but these inconveniences can’t be avoided when we’re that close to one another.

And then we have the issue of HOA dues. We pay $145 a month, which is not that high—but what we get for that $145 is paltry. Our dues cover maintenance of a large swimming pool and a small gym, neither of which Mr. Groovy and I take advantage of because they’re usually crowded and there’s a lot of bickering over equipment, chairs, and unattended children. Dues also cover lawn service—which most homeowners are not happy with. I don’t even let the workers touch my shrubbery. They roam from house to house hacking away like Michael Myers in Halloween. I don’t blame them—they have hundreds of homes to cover and they’re not paid well. I blame the owner of the business, who, according to our financial statements, earns a pretty penny from our HOA dues—much more than he should. But considering he was hand-picked by the developer of our community, it’s understandable.

The best part of living under the thumb of an HOA, however, is the lovely letters sent to us by the management company on behalf of the board, informing us we must take some action. These are not requests; they’re demands. And if they’re not met by a specific date, management won’t hesitate to fine us. Remember the aforementioned resident snitch? Our community has one or two geezers with nothing but time on their hands to roam the streets examining the homes of their neighbors. Do you know what kind of problems they find?  Let’s see—we once got a nasty letter about our grass not being maintained properly! Oh YES, this is a service that our HOA dues cover! Our community has been built in phases, one or two of which do not include lawn maintenance. But since ours DOES, I had to call the management company and REMIND them that their hired landscaper was responsible for our crappy looking grass. NOT US!

Then there was the letter advising us that the front of our house was dirty and needed to be painted. I seriously had no idea what was dirty and sent numerous emails to the management company with photo attachments. “Is this the dirty part?” I begged for clarification. “Or is THIS the dirty part?” Finally, we got an email saying that the metal flashing along the edge of the second story porch was the nasty culprit bringing shame to the neighborhood. You would think if they’re going to be that picayune in pointing out our transgressions they might include some photos or diagrams.

And now, the big kerfuffle this week involves a notice posted by a neighbor to our online community bulletin board claiming that one of our very own neighbors is being paid $100 an hour by the HOA to move traffic cones and perform other mundane tasks. It’s the kind of job a college student would do for ten bucks an hour. It was reported this neighbor earned a total of $14,000 last year!

Everyone is up in arms, including me, and posing more questions and comments on the bulletin board. People are pitted against one another, some saying to the original poster “you don’t know all the facts”—back and forth, back and forth—until finally, the Grand Poohbah Bulletin Board Moderator erased the whole dang thread! Neighbors want to attend a board meeting to find out what the heck is going on, but the Grand Poobah is watching, and no one has started the thread back up again. And no one knows when the stupid meetings are held!

What we do know is that board meetings are held behind closed doors. And allegedly, time is set aside before the meeting for homeowners to voice their concerns.We signed up for email notifications to be in the loop, but this hasn’t helped. These notifications give absolutely no clue as to when these clandestine meetings are held. If one should be cunning enough to find out when a meeting is scheduled, he must contact the management company if he wants his concern to be heard. So in order to speak or ask a question at a meeting, he must be placed on the agenda. Meh!

Seriously? We’d have a better chance of asking Hillary Clinton a question on the campaign trail.

So this, dear friends, is what we’re up against. And from what I hear, our HOA’s shenanigans are nothing compared to what goes on in other communities. But here we are, Mr. Groovy and I, just wanting to be left alone to do our own thing. And yet the longer we live here, the more our HOA is turning our community into a joke. Except we’re not laughing.

Keep my story in mind when you search for a house. I didn’t list the benefits of being part of a community—and some of them can be very appealing, especially if you have young children. But them rules are them rules and there’s not a whole lot you can do to change them rules unless you want to become a board member. For us, our next home is going to be on an individual plot of land. We’ll need to answer to state and county rules, which is about the most government either one of us can tolerate when relaxing behind our own enclosed walls.

 

 

 

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18 Comments

  1. Miss Jaime

    First I love Bewitched, I dream of Jeannie, The Big Valley, Gunsmoke and classic TV/movies in general!

    I hate tattle tales too. When I was a kid, I said “shoot” one day at the end of P.E. and this girl thought that I said the S word, and then she kept telling our P.E. teacher I said the S word.

    I had to defend myself, didn’t get in trouble or anything, I think our P.E. teacher just saw how aggravated I was by the whole thing. Plus I wasn’t one of those kids that cursed so I think that’s why I didn’t get in trouble.

    So that was my first intro with tattletales. Anyway when my parents lived in the country they lived in an unincorporated community and I honestly think those are the best. Then you also have those communities where everyone has a couple of acres between them. I like those too.

    What is a good alternative for an HOA besides buying land? Mediators?

    • Mrs. Groovy

      My friends and I would try to wiggle our noses like Samantha when we were little girls, Jaime.

      I can’t believe a kid in school would tattle even if you did say the S word. But I’m glad your teacher believed you and you didn’t get in trouble.

      We would be very happy to find land in an unincorporated village. They’re not always easy to identify…I honestly don’t know how much mediators get involved in HOA affairs. The only time I’ve ever heard of anyone pushing back successfully was after hiring a lawyer.

      When we first relocated we bought 2 acres we intended to build on, but for various reasons decided not to. The situation seemed ideal though. The lot was part of a subdivision in that it was clustered among maybe 10 other homes constructed by the same builder. Some basic covenants filed with the county existed that I believe pertained to road maintenance. Aside from that, if I remember correctly,we would have only needed to follow county laws and zoning ordinances.

  2. Oh my gosh, I’m so sorry to hear about your HOA. I had a NIGHTMARE of an HOA in my former condo, and I swore never to live in an HOA-controlled community again. I got lucky and was able to find a house (in Orange County, California, believe it or not!) with no HOA.

    I kept a file of all of my condo’s HOA violation letters and responses from 2000-2014, and it’s easily 3-4 inches thick (covering 2000 to 2014). I got the same violation letters over and over, even for items that they had previously approved. I would send back a response, including a copy of the prior approval letter, and I would just get the same violation letter back from them again, this time with a larger fine because another month had passed. They sent out letters, and never processed the responses unless you made a huge stink about it.

    Every time they changed property management companies, I got a new volley of letters for all of the old approved stuff, because they never transferred the files from one place to another. I had to jump through the same hoops over and over again. I even had the number of the FCC’s staff attorney saved in my phone contacts because I had to call her multiple times so she could tell the HOA for the dozenth time that the federal government deemed my satellite dish appropriately installed and they needed to back off and stop sending me violation letters.

    I hope your HOA becomes more reasonable over time. The nosy neighbor has to quit, or move, or die sometime, right? Maybe you and some of your more reasonable neighbors should stage a coup and overthrow the incumbents in the next election. It’s hard to do, but not impossible.

    • Mrs. Groovy

      Thanks for sharing your experience, Yetisaurus. I can’t imagine having a folder that thick with violations. It sounds like a bunch of idiots were running the show. It would have made me very angry.

      I was involved in union politics a long time ago and this committee stuff is nothing I wish on anyone. The roles are thankless – so in that sense I have to put up, or shut up. But we don’t expect to be living here much more than another year or so, which makes it even harder to justify getting involved. Another consideration is that I really don’t want to know all my neighbors very well, or have them ringing my bell with problems because they know I’m on the board. I grew up in an apartment building, where everyone knew everyone else’s business. Then for a good portion of my adult life, I rented an apartment in Manhattan where it was more of the same. I’d rather be more anonymous.

  3. Great coverage of a topic that can bring about strong feelings. I’ve been on both sides of the divide. Soon after we moved into the first home we purchased, a neighbor directly across the street simply refused to cut his grass or pull weeds. All I saw when I looked out my front window was his horrendous looking yard with brown grass and 3′ – 4′ tall weeds. When we decided to think about buying a slightly larger place, the neighbor’s yard became a factor in our decision to move … to a neighborhood with an HOA.

    During this period, satellite TV (Dish Network and DirecTV) was just taking off on a large scale. I remember being slightly annoyed that I had to get permission to install an antenna. However, I did, and I really don’t recall any other time that I felt the HOA guidelines were too restrictive or unreasonable.

    Flash forward to today and the wife and I are talking about it again as our present home is not in an HOA neighborhood. We have been here for eight years and most neighbors do a nice job of maintaining their homes and we love the neighborhood. However, we have noticed that of the four or five houses on the block that have renters, a couple of them are starting to look a little shabby. Additionally, recently there was about a four week period when one of our neighbors was hosting a visitor (friend, family?) and they had a trailer – complete with electrical cords run from the house – parked in front of the house. While they weren’t loud and there wasn’t any trash around, the thing was a serious eyesore. Something else that is an eyesore for me is when neighbors have a two-car garage – filled with junk most often – yet still have two cars in the driveway and one on the rocks to the side. Ugh! Why, oh why?!

    Based on my experience and knowing my personality, if we move again, into what would be the retirement home, I am leaning toward choosing an HOA neighborhood. They can be a little restrictive, but for my money, they are better than the alternative – if you live in a densely populated neighborhood – which too often is a handful of neighbors that don’t maintain a home in what I would consider a minimal standard and don’t show an appreciable consideration for neighbors and the neighborhood.

    Those that refuse to maintain their home in a decent manner remind me of the people that go to a movie and then are annoyed if you inform them that the blue glow is annoying. They seem to believe since they bought a ticket they can do whatever they want to do. Never do they consider you also bought a ticket and are entitled to watch the movie without unnecessary distractions. Some homeowners act the same way. Their mentality is that since they bought the house, they can do anything they want, at any time, irrespective of how it might impact others in the neighborhood … who also paid money for their house.

    One thing I learned in the Army is that you have to be mindful of others when you live in a community. As an example, when you live in a barracks, it would be rude to not take your laundry out of the common washer soon after it’s done. While you might leave trash on the floor in your own room, it would be rude to leave it in the hallway that others also use. Similar story with a home, do what you want inside, but have some consideration for others on your block. Leaving trash in the street, not maintaining a yard or letting a house fall into disrepair impacts those around you.

    • Mrs. Groovy

      Great perspective, James. Your last comments about the laundry remind me of my apartment complex in Manhattan where people would get into arguments if someone’s laundry was pulled out of the dryer. I also remember the guy who wore a winter coat in the summer and washed 2 pairs of socks while others were waiting for a machine.

      And your comments about shabby looking homes and the one with the trailer/electrical cords definitely rings true, depicting the other side of the divide. We went to Montana a few years ago in search of 20 acres of unrestricted land. I remember one property, where all you could see were panoramic views of different mountains – AND, someone we dubbed “Teepee Man”. He was probably half a mile away from the lot we were interested in but we knew he’d be in our view all the time. He had a large teepee sitting right outside his door. When we asked the realtor “What’s up with teepee man?” he replied something about how this is what you get when you want unrestricted land. The door swings both ways and you have to take the good with the bad.

      Another time we searched for North Carolina mountain land. I remember driving past homes with junk cars heaped out front and garbage can lids hanging on trees, being used for target practice. No thank you!

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts, James.

  4. I can certainly understand your frustration. I live in a condo so an HOA is a must. It sounds like mine is a little better than yours (meetings are posted but still mostly secret, maintenance is passable, only received 1 violation letter in nearly a decade) but it has its downsides as well ($235/mo cost, overpaid underworked property manager, selective enforcement of rules). If anyone out there is considering a home with an HOA, read the rules carefully before you buy, investigate money management to get a sense of how quickly maintenance costs may escalate, and prepare to compromise.

    • Mrs. Groovy

      You make some really good points which I find to be especially true when it comes to buying a condo. Sometimes it’s difficult to even get your hands on the financial statements, let alone the covenants or rules and regulations. It’s a big mistake if you don’t at least see the financials and confirm there are long-term funds in the bank.

      Before we moved we lived in a condo in Long Beach. We had a first floor unit and the building was hit hard by Hurricane Sandy. Had we been there we would have had to relocate for a while. But there was a healthy building fund and they were able to renovate, and come back stronger. My brother, on the other hand, had (and still has) a condo in Lido beach which was wiped out. Luckily it’s a second home because their property took more than a year to be rebuilt. And they’ve been in all kinds of legal battles with insurance companies and FEMA. Their board of directors had let their flood insurance policy lapse for a very small window of time. They were shifting to a more cost effective policy but unfortunately Sandy wasn’t following their schedule.

  5. We picked our neighborhood because no HOA. We knew we were in the right neighborhood when we drove and saw drive ways with almost as much stuff in as we knew we would likely have (multiple older cars, a sailboat, kid clutter). There are HOA free neighborhoods in and near Raleigh, but you do have to seek them out.

    One thing in my experience is that newer neighborhood HOAs can be more AR than older ones. That’s definitely what happened in Jon’s parents’ neighborhood. At first it was filled with short termers who were concerned about resale value, but it eventually got to be more lived in, and therefore more tolerant.

  6. Mrs. Groovy I can sooo relate. We live in a condo and our HOA is horrendous. I would never buy in a HOA again! Our dues keep going up, $375 at the moment, soon to be $425 in the coming months. Granted it does include water and trash and up keep of the streams and pools through the community. Also, tennis courts. But we only use the water and trash. There is constant turmoil on the Board and neighbors who are irate. People will get fined for anything in our community. And if you complain you better believe you’re on the Board’s radar for anything they can fine you on. We’ve stopped going to the HOA meetings because I fear someone will really show up in arms. We’ve heard there was armed guards who were attending the meetings back when things were really tense. It’s died down a bit only because so many people have moved. I actually worry it is affecting home prices in our community. I can go on and on too, but I’ll save your readers from reading my rant. Buyers beware before purchasing a home in an HOA community!

    • Mrs. Groovy

      Your situation reminds me of ours in NY. Our monthly fees were over $400. Armed guards though? That sounds nuts! Ours also included a pool that we didn’t use, just like here. If you sat at the pool you heard everyone’s business and they tried to get into yours. Thanks for commenting!

  7. I’ve seen both sides, but unlike our federal & state governments, we enter into HOAs voluntarily. I’m fine with them for the most part. In our last neighborhood, people complained that the HOA-provided mailbox maintenance was too expensive. The HOA decided to turn over mailbox responsibility to homeowners and within a year two yahoos on our street bought their own. One in the shape of a fish (with the fish mouth as the mailbox door) and the other a plastic John Deere tractor. Stay classy neighborhood!

    • Mrs. Groovy

      You’re right about entering into HOAs voluntarily. It’s just time for us to move on.

      I know exactly which mail boxes you speak of . I can deal with the tractor but the one in the shape of a fish is pretty ugly. Ours are uniform black but they’re affixed to a black pole with a molded black horse head on top. They’re kind of cool-looking. We have stables with horses here and streets with race track themed names so it’s fitting.

  8. I think having a single family house within an HOA could definitely be frustrating. I have to imagine that this is how so many newer communities feel so cookie cutter.

    But beyond the uniformity, most of the people who live in SFH want the bigger space and want the freedom to do their own thing.

    I don’t mind having an HOA in a stacked hosing type scenario. I see it as apartment style living (with community pools, gym, etc to go along with it) as well as a bit of exposure to real estate and hedging the inflation of rent.

    I almost feel like it would have extra frustrations if I bought into a stacked housing scenario that DIDN’T have an HOA or some sort of centrally pooled management decision team in place.

    • Mrs. Groovy

      It’s nice to have some important decisions made centrally. But there are other things I would prefer to decide myself such as what color I can paint my house, what kind of shrubs I can plant, where my trash cans should be stored, etc. And the notices people receive here for infractions are entirely arbitrary and not at all uniform. I just want to do my own thing and not have to jockey to protect my own interests.

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