Sunday, February 17, 2008

HOA Hell

I am sure I am not alone in this line of thinking, but what was I thinking moving into a neighborhood with a Home Owner's Association? On the surface, HOAs seem valuable. Their number one job is to maintain the homogeneity of our neighborhoods. This means no pink houses for you and me, which is a good thing...sorry Mr. Mellencamp. But often the benefits of HOAs are undermined by mismanagement, gestapo tactics and misuse of enforcement by petty neighbors.

We purchased our house in the fall of 1998. We were the fourth house in a new neighborhood in Rowlett, known as Mariner Park since we sit on the shores of Lake Ray Hubbard. About a year after we moved in, we had a patio cover installed in our backyard to shelter our den and postage-stamp-sized patio from the harsh South and West sun. A couple years later in 2001 we wanted to build an outdoor storage shed to house our lawn and garden implements. We checked with the HOA to determine the appropriate dimensions according to the HOA rules. That was when we discovered that we should have received approval for our patio cover. So, we applied for belated approval for the patio cover and the storage shed. Shortly thereafter we received approval and constructed an 8x12 shed which backs up to the alley.

Recently we were contacted by our HOA, who is evidently doing a compliance sweep, requesting us to repair our recently damaged wood fence and to paint the shed to match our house. According to the management company, SBB Management, we had been contacted back in August (i.e. 6 months ago) about said infractions and had ignored their requests. However, we never received the purported first attempt. On February 2nd or 3rd we received the Second Notice, dated 2/1/08, which stated we had 10 days to rectify the situation or face dire consequences. Interestingly, the fence had already been repaired. The shed still needed to be painted and I did so the following weekend, within their 10 day period. Then on 2/15/08 I received a much stronger letter, via regular mail and certified mail, saying I had another 10 days to comply or face legal action. Considering the shed had been painted on 2/9, I was a bit put out. They give a 10 day period and then assume I blew them off.

Interestingly, at the same time, one of our neighbors received a similar letter regarding their lack of approval for the small deck they had in their small backyard. The funny (haha, strange, you name it) thing is that the BUILDER put that on the house, not my neigbors, and did so before they purchased the house almost seven years ago. Further, the deck cannot be seen from outside the backyard. Makes you wonder how they knew about the deck at all, doesn't it. Either the HOA is peeping over fences or petty neighbors are causing trouble. I wouldn't be surprised if it were the latter.

You would think that moving into a nice neighborhood would yield nice neighbors, right? Wrong! I know, I'm naive. It astounds me how many petty neighbors use the HOA as their own personal enforcement arm. We have received violation notices before, usually about the lawn. However, last year I received a violation about fixing my fence. My fence was fine, except for a single pole which had rotten out in the section separating my neighbor's yard from mine. There is no way a casual enforcement officer could have seen this leaning post from the street or alley. What is further interesting is that the post is actually on my neighbor's side of the fence, yet I received the violation. I wonder if they got one...

The HOAs are overrun with petty reports from neighbors who don't like other neighbors. The HOA rules forbid parking in front of the house for extended periods of time, but this has NEVER been enforced to my knowledge. However, if in late February or early March I have a milkweed growing in my front yard, I get a violation notice.

The good news is that I have learned from these experiences.

  1. The HOA has WAY too much power. But since I signed the document at closing, I gave them that power. Keep ALL correspondence with the HOA, forever! I have to prove that I received approval for my shed 7 years ago or they could force me to tear it down. I don't know that the IRS makes you keep documents longer than 7 years...

  2. Get involved in the HOA as either block captain or on the board. That way you can use the HOA for your benefit and screw anyone in the neighborhood who looks at you the wrong way.

  3. Live in an older neighborhood where there are no HOAs.

  4. Buy land and live far from your neighbors...

I think I need to start sending Architectural Improvement Applications on a weekly basis for things that will clearly be rejected like: A) a helipad, B) a large billboard (since the President George Bush Turnpike will come right by my neighborhoood), C) cattle ranching in my backyard, D) Drive In movie screen... You get the picture.

Actually, what I should do is pull my huge Antenna (which I no longer use since I have Verizon FIOS) out of my attic and mount it atop my chimney. Or better yet, I need to put a large HAM radio antenna array in my backyard. I believe the FCC protects these and the HOA would be powerless... Gonna have to check into that one.

Anyway, for the unitiatied, be careful when you buy a house in a neighborhood with a HOA. Given the housing crunch now, you should have plenty other choices. Or, if you do embark upon the HOA nightmare, keep good records of your correspondence. Words to the wise...from the not as wise. Of course most folks who stumble upon this little diatribe are probably already feeling the HOA pain. My condolences. Just remember, misery loves company.


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