Most Outrageous Enforcement of HOA Rules
Homeowners associations and other similar community associations manage planned communities, such as subdivisions, townhomes, condominiums and some purchased apartments. The board of an association is usually made up of people appointed by the community's developer and homeowners from the community that the board voted into position and/or homeowners that volunteered to help out. Owners of developed properties agree at purchase to follow certain rules in regards to predesignated architectural designs and themes and their interactions with other homeowners and community visitors. Homeowners associations have received a lot of criticism over the years from property owners, the media and politicians for their strict and often severe interpretations of community rules. Some HOAs have also received bad press for illegal actions, such as creating new rules to fit situations where a small number of homeowners are angry at one homeowner.
HOA representatives across the country argue that community rules are designed to help maintain property values and the overall appearance of a developed community. Since HOAs often enforce rules that are written into legal contracts, the courts typically support them even when those rules would be considered ridiculous outside of a developed community. The following strange, weird and outrageous HOA rules and bylaws prove that HOAs have dictatorial control over homeowners and that more buyers need to read the fine print before signing on the dotted line:
Property developers usually ban smoking outdoors in their communities. They typically support this rule by pointing out the negative living impact on neighbors and visitors who don't want to smell cigarette or cigar smoke and secondhand smoke health concerns. In recent years, another type of smoking ban has found its way into contracts. Some developers ban homeowners from smoking inside their homes as well. Developers utilize this type of ban to protect property values since smoke can cause damage to furniture and structures. In condos and townhomes, for example, there are also difficulties with owners experiencing the "quiet enjoyment" of their homes because of smoke from one part of a building drifting into another through air vent ducts, windows and patio doors.
In 2015, Keely and Peter Dubrova did their due diligence and contacted their HOA, the Atascocita Community Improvement Association, to receive permission to paint the exterior of their Victorian-style house near Lake Houston, Texas, shades of teal - a bright blue color. The HOA originally approved the Dubrova's request without any hesitation. Not long after the Dubrovas finished the work, they started to receive negative responses and even death threats after a realtor posted an image of their home online. The negative comments ranged from the house being compared to a "Smurf" home to one person calling the Dubrovas "white trash Californians." Some neighbors responded positively to the color scheme in general, but still believed that the Dubrovas should have to change it because it didn't match the community's outdoor theme. Less than two weeks after the first complaints, the HOA informed the Dubrovas that they had to repaint the entire structure at their own expense.
In 1992, Jeffrey DeMarco, a rose enthusiast, lost everything because of having too many rose bushes on his property even though he had a $1.4 million four-acre lot. DeMarco had designed the property to create a "Ranch of 10,000 Roses," but didn't receive permission from his HOA, the Rancho Santa Fe Association, to move forward with his landscaping plans. The members of his HOA weren't happy about his dream design. He offered other plans to the committee to scale back the work, but the matter eventually went to court because DeMarco refused to remove the number of bushes outlined by the HOA so that his property would better match other properties in the development. His business started to go under at the same time as this dispute. In the end, he lost the case and his home to bank foreclosure because he had to file bankruptcy and pay $70,000 in legal and other fees for violating his original contract that stipulated certain architectural design rules.
Some developers forbid anyone living in their communities that are under a certain age. Age restrictions are typically seen in communities for retirees where the developer doesn't want young children or teens making noise and damaging structures and landscaping. When grandparents Jimmy and Judy Stuttler attempted to move their granddaughter, six-year-old Kimberly, into the home they bought in a Clearwater, Florida retirement community, they were informed by their HOA that she wasn't permitted to live permanently in the community because she wasn't over 55 years old. The Stuttlers attempted to sell their home. When they failed to move out in a timely fashion, the HOA sued them in court.
Joe Woodard lost his wife and newborn son in a horrific moment when a plane crashed into his home in Sanford, Florida. When he attempted to rebuild the house, he received a warning from his HOA, the Preserve at Lake Monroe Homeowners Association Inc., because the design didn't meet the community's building standards. The HOA threatened to sue Woodard if he didn't reduce the size of the house and match the shingles to all of the other homes in the neighborhood.
In 2011, an Army veteran, Sean Gittens, needed a house built on his property in Evans, Georgia, that would meet his specific health needs. An IED blast in 2008 had caused him permanent speech loss and right-side paralysis. The non-profit organization Homes for Our Troops offered to build a home for him. As soon as his HOA, the Knob Hill Homeowners Association, found out about the construction, they sent out a cease-and-desist order stating that Homes for Our Troops didn't complete the appropriate paperwork. Soon after, the real reason for the HOA's complaint came to light during the dispute: The HOA's president, Rick Trump, accidentally mentioned to the press that several other homeowners had concerns that their property values would drop because Gittens' home would be smaller than the community's standard home size. Homes for Our Troops agreed to build at a new location, and Gittens and his wife moved out of the development.
In 2005, a then 61-year-old Pamela McMahan had to move out of her condominium in Long Beach, California, after she was repeatedly fined for being unable to carry her mixed-breed Cocker Spaniel, Ginger, through the condominium's lobby. Although McMahan had a back injury with nerve damage and used a cane to walk, the International Towers' condominium association refused to make an exception, and she received a fine of $25 every time she didn't carry Ginger. McMahan moved because the fines made it impossible for her to afford to live in the building. The property manager informed the press that McMahan knew about the rule when she moved in and that the association was concerned that other elderly residents would fall over the dog if it was allowed to walk on a leash. They offered McMahan another entrance at the basement parking garage, but she stated that she feared using that entrance because the alley near the entrance was a dead end used by the homeless. The entrance also required that McMahan walk much further to her home.
In 2008, then 66-year-old Joseph Prudente couldn't maintain his lawn at his home in Beacon Woods in Bayonet Point, Florida, after an expensive increase in his mortgage payments. The Beacon Woods Civic Association sued him in court for not being able to re-sod his brown lawn with fresh green turf. Prudente ignored court orders giving him time to find a way to re-sod the lawn. He was then placed in jail. Prudente repeatedly claimed that he didn't have the financial means to perform the ordered landscaping and also pay his mortgage. He believed that paying his mortgage was more important than maintaining the lawn. Prudente's neighbors eventually aided him by doing the lawn work.
In 2007, then 55-year-old Susan Taylor was informed by her HOA, Brooks Resources Corporation, that she wasn't allowed to dry her clothing on a clothesline in her own backyard in Bend, Oregon. The HOA's argument, after it received complaints from her neighbors, was that property values decrease when clothes hang outside because buyers associate clotheslines with poorer communities. Taylor knew about the clothesline ban when she moved into the Awbrey Butte development, but decided to hang the line after learning about a connection between global warming and the use of electric dryers. Taylor then attempted to get the outdated clothesline rule changed. When her attempts failed, she placed the line behind a screen to hide it from the public. The HOA refused to compromise. Taylor hung the clothesline in her garage, but she was then told that the community's rules also forbid indoor clotheslines unless homeowners keep their doors shut. Finally, she moved the clothesline to an area where no one could see it on her deck. When she received no more complaints, she thought that she had found a workable compromise...until she received an almost $1,000 bill. The HOA had fined her $20/day for breaking the rules.
In 1992, a therapist named Mary Lindsey fell behind in her dues while going through a divorce. She then arranged a payment plan through her HOA board and a credit-counseling service. At the time, the HOA claimed that her combined dues, late fees and interest equaled more than $1,000, but Lindsey believed she owed them less than $800. When the matter was taken to court, evidence proved that the HOA's accountant made a mistake. Yet, Lindsey lost the case because she didn't pay any dues during the dispute. Lindsey was charged $22,000 in back dues and related fees and interest and the HOA's legal costs.
Back in 2002, a homeowner in El Dorado Hills, California, asked her local homeowners association, the El Dorado Hills Design Review Committee, for permission to install a new roof. The committee refused the request and told the homeowner that they would only approve it if she re-painted her house. The home's yellow exterior broke a community rule that dictated that homeowners should never use primary colors when painting outdoors. The homeowner did as the HOA members asked, but then complained that other homes were also painted yellow. Her HOA then went after those homeowners. One couple, Joe and Melinda Bula, argued that they only had a yellow house because it was yellow when they bought it from the previous owners, but the committee refused to compromise and demanded that they repaint their home. As the conflict reached national attention, the HOA changed tactics and told the media that the issue involved more than one broken rule because the couple had installed a white plastic picket fence instead of a community-mandated wooden one.
Like most homeowners trying to sell a property, Denise Hicks hired a real estate company to sell her home in Lebanon, Tennessee. Her selling nightmare began when her Coldwell Banker agent placed a "For Sale" sign on her front lawn. The Spence Creek development's HOA sent her a warning letter that she would receive a fine if she didn't remove the sign. She was then told that she could only place the sign in a window because the sign detracted from the community's outdoor appearance. Hicks then found out that the community's builder, Centex, was allowed to put out as many signs as desired to sell lots. She attempted to dispute the matter because she felt that the builder was attempting to prevent sales competition by forcing homeowners to put sales signs in half-hidden locations. A Centex representative initially denied the accusation, but then accidentally revealed that the sign rule could be overturned by a community vote. The problem with this statement? The community rules would only allow the vote to take place after Centex stopped selling lots.
Sometimes the Brave Persevere
Of course, there are instances when homeowners win against their homeowners associations. When exceptions happen though, they're usually the result of the HOA receiving a lot of negative national and international public attention.
World War II veteran and retired Army colonel and Medal of Honor recipient Van T. Barfoot won a battle against his local HOA in Sussex Square, Virginia, in 2009. The then 90-year-old homeowner decided to install a flagpole in his front yard. Members of the HOA immediately told him to take it down or face a lawsuit because flagpoles are expressly forbidden in the community rules unless first approved by the HOA. Although the HOA was trying to make a point that homeowners need to ask for approval first, many people around the country wondered why the HOA wouldn't make an exception for an elderly veteran who made an honest mistake. Barfoot won his case after an outcry by protesters and an intervention from the media, the American Legion and U.S. Congressional leaders.
When A.J. Vizzi considered purchasing a home in a community in Odessa, Florida, in 1997, he found out that his truck wouldn't fit in the garage. The developer agreed to "allow" him to park his truck in his driveway. For years, the HOA, Eagle Masters Association, had no problems with Vizzi's truck until one day, out of the blue, they told him that it violated the community's rules. When Vizzi refused to move the truck after repeated warnings, the HOA sued him in 2006. It took two years, $200,000 and a lot of media attention, but Vizzi finally won the lawsuit. The HOA appealed the decision, and Vizzi won again. The HOA eventually had to pay approximately $300,000 between an award to Vizzi and legal fees.
Therapy animals are used every day to help improve the lives of disabled children and adults. In 2012, the Estates of Legends Ranch Homeowners Association sent a warning letter to Nick and Jeni Dreis to remove a six-month red kangaroo from their private home because the animal didn't qualify as a pet or as part of a business under the community rules. The couple brought the kangaroo to their home to help provide vocational training to their 16-year-old daughter Kayla who has Down Syndrome. The HOA eventually agreed to allow it to stay for the year that the couple had originally intended to keep it before moving it to a wildlife preserve. An HOA representative later claimed that the couple would have never received the letter if the HOA had known it was a therapy animal.
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