Mad at my HOA!! This is a popular theme. I received many emails in response to an earlier blog on the topic, all in the context of owners who are mad at their HOAs or Condo Association Boards.
Here is one story from a reader, which is not uncommon (I sure get tired of saying this):
“I just read your blog about people who hate their HOA and what not to do. I’m one of them. A homeowner who is fed up. My windows are dry rotted and I found out that the support beams in some of the garages are collapsing in some of the units due to dry rot and the garage door has to be ripped out, beams added to prop it up while they rebuild it. Sound like gross negligence? I sent out a very non-offensive letter to homeowners asking them to get involved and I get this dead silence. Other units had massive dry rot as well. I don’t have thousands of dollars for a lawsuit and I think the board and manager know that.
I don’t think it is right for the board to be allowed to use the reserve study as a budget tool unless they get professional inspections of the property. But
the reserve study is useless because the board defers maintenance year after year and haven’t increased the dues in so many years. … [for various reasons] we can’t move out even if we could even sell this place.”
In many associations, perturbed owners meet with a brick wall when they try to get neighbors involved (in fact, the Board does too!) People just don’t care or are too busy to get involved – it often takes a very big problem to get a rise out of the membership. And I agree that use of the reserve study as a budget tool is useless without a meaningful physical inspection of the property that is done by experts who can determine if there is an underlying problem of any kind. The law in Caliornia requires a “diligent, visual inspection” every three years of property the association is obligated to maintain. What is diligent? You tell me. I am only a lawyer but would say that the board should hire and has the right to rely on a contractor who is licensed, bonded, has a good reputation and knows how to build whatever it is he or she is inspecting from the ground up, so he or she can spot issues that might suggest further testing or deeper inspection.
From the same owner, a forwarded message from a different owner about some very fed up owners caught up in perhaps an even more serious problem (if that seems possible in the eyes of such a frustrated owner).
The message: “The folks at Park Memorial in Houston. They were being managed by a well known multi-state HOA management company. They paid their assessments. The entire complex was condemned and has since been sold for re-development. The prior owners are out their homes AND their investments. See
These people not only had to move out; they had to continue making mortgage payments.”
This is not an isolated story. Bad things happen to owners in single family homes too. Several years ago owners who had purchased homes on Rose Drive in Benicia, California found out their homes had been constructed on a hazardous dump site and they had not been told. One owner noticed a hole on his property and commenced to dig, only to reveal a pool of black muck. Here is reference to a legal paper on that story from the disclosure requirement perspective:
These stories are horrific for the owners, and even worse, in the case of a homeowners’ association, for the board members. These volunteers, when confronted with bad news, have to determine when and how to share it. There is often the question of how bad and how widespread the problem is, and at the same time the need to avoid a “Chicken Little” scenario. And although they set out to give service to the association, in the worst case scenarios, they not only lose their homes along with the others, but often become the brunt of their neighbors’ wrath.
And believe it -I have also been called upon to help boards cope with the fact that the owners will not approve a special assessment needed to make important repairs, compounding already deferred maintenance problems.
I do not have immediate solutions for all of the disasters, but maybe it makes people feel better to know they are not alone. As for people who are looking to buy in a common interest development, do your own due diligence. You can find a wealth of information in my book The Condo Owners Handbook available on my website (www.californiacondoguru.com) in the Publications section and on Amazon.com. There are a couple of chapters on what to look out for, and don’t ignore the fact that you may find yourself in a situation where people you do not like or trust will be making decisions about your property without asking for input!
As for what boards and owners should do – due diligence is also the key. Pay attention, know the association documents, use knowledgeable professionals to help unravel difficult problems, offer to serve so you have a say and additional knowledge about what is going on in your association, and collectively (with other board members, vendors, and experts) look for ways to get over the hurdles placed in front of you. Life is just that way! Stuff happens, not all good. And the depressed economic conditions exacerbate the depth of economic based challenges for almost everyone.