Drunk with power. That’s what more than one HOA board has been accused of being. And also, out of line and over the line. Stories abound about HOAs that have seemingly abused their power, enacted ridiculous rules, or bugged an owner over something seemingly innocuous, causing them to sell their home. Frankly, to many of us (our family included), putting up with an HOA is well worth the occasional hassle. I’ll personally take the demand from our HOA to change out our torn basketball net—that almost no one can see because it’s in the driveway at the back of the house—because it means I won’t ever have to worry about unkempt lawns or other unsightly things that could drag my property value down.
But for some people, living under the strict and sometime illegal rules of an HOA can be maddening. We’re taking a look at some of the most egregious or outrageous examples.
No Banksy allowed
“The HOA board at the ‘family-friendly’ Stapleton neighborhood decided to crack down on a vandalism spree—specifically, a three-year-old child drawing on a sidewalk with chalk,” reports Consumer Affairs. Yes, Innovations and Courtyard Traditions at Stapleton, a sub-association of the Stapleton MCA in Denver, banned kids from coloring in the courtyard in chalk, because it “is a shared space,” and “anything that offends, disturbs or interferes with the peaceful enjoyment isn’t allowed.” Making a note not to ever move there if relocation to Colorado is ever a consideration.
Forget about chalk, your kids can’t play outside PERIOD
The HOA of a condo community in Fremont, CA distributed notices to tenants, “telling them that minors under the age of 14 were to refrain from riding bikes, skating, skateboarding, or playing outside, or else guardians could be subject to a fine,” said SFGATE. “The HOA reportedly said the rules were instated due to safety concerns.”
Plaintiff Domenicka Lewis told KPIX that…she was subjected to threats and warnings from HOA board members, and that she and her two children were harassed.”
Thankfully, this particular example of HOA lunacy ended with a lawsuit. “The managers of the condo are being forced to pay $800,000 to the residents as the result of an effective class action lawsuit investigated by a housing nonprofit called Project Sentinel and brought forth by pro bono representation,” they said. “Following the settlement, each household member will receive close to $2,300. Board members of the Silvertree Mojave Homeowners Association also have to submit to fair housing training “and post signs indicating that children are allowed to play outside.”
Your dog can’t pee here
Did you know that an HOA can make a rule that says your dog can’t pee in your own yard? This is a reality in a gated townhome community in Calabasas, CA. The HOA can’t tell homeowners not to let their animals go out back and do their business on the small patio, but, if they take the dog for a walk, they need to sprint to the gate and off property. Cross those doggy legs!
A sign…but not of the times
The best example of HOA insanity might be this issue from Olde Belhaven in Fairfax County, VA, a suburb of Washington, DC. “The Olde Belhaven HOA literally bankrupted itselfted itself after spending four years and over $400,000 in an insane effort to punish homeowners Sam and Maria Farran over a political yard sign,” said Consumer Affairs.
“Here’s the short version of the story: During the 2008 election season, the Farrans put an “OBAMA” sign in their front yard. The HOA board got huffy because the sign was four inches too big according to HOA guidelines, so the Farrans cut it in half and made two signs, each under the size limit, reading “OBA” and “MA.”
Next came a slew of “illegal actions (illegal not just under US or state law, but the HOA’s own covenants and bylaws), including imposing punitive fines on the Farrans, passing special Farran-only building restrictions, even pushing what amounted to ex post facto rules against the couple—and after four years of this obsessive nonsense, a judge finally ruled in the Farrans’ favor,” they said. “Olde Belhaven has to pay the Farrans’ legal costs in addition to their own…and the HOA association went bankrupt as a result.”
The bottom line: Check out your HOA before you move into a new community. Do a Google search, ask current owners in the community, and have your real estate agent do their due diligence. While you can’t always know if there’s craziness bubbling below the surface, and, obviously, you can’t predict every situation that could set someone off, you know what they say: “The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior.”