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Why You Should Avoid Buying in HOA Neighborhoods

 

A couple of weeks ago I ran a post, Do You Ever REALLY Own Your Home, in which I challenged the assumption that you actually enjoy true ownership, in the traditional sense. I cited limited property use restrictions, heavy economic use restrictions, the potential for legal attachment, and increasingly burdensome property taxes as factors eroding true homeownership. Today I want to focus a factor that puts even more extreme limits on home ownership – homeowners associations, or HOAs. And more specifically, why you should avoid buying in HOA neighborhoods.

In the interest of full disclosure, I’ve lived in both HOA neighborhoods and non-HOA neighborhoods – as well as condos – so I have some perspective on what’s really going on – and why HOAs aren’t as benign as most people think.

What is an HOA Neighborhood?

Why You Should Avoid Buying in HOA Neighborhoods
Why You Should Avoid Buying in HOA Neighborhoods

An HOA neighborhood is something like a community within a community. You live in a city or town – a municipality – but if you also live in an HOA neighborhood, you also live in another distinct legal entity. And just as the municipality has rules, so does the HOA.

There are various types of HOA neighborhoods, and each vary in terms of the amenities they provide and their control over your status as a homeowner.

Voluntary HOAs – These are something more like traditional neighborhood associations in that they’re informal, have no legal standing and are generally organized to deal with a specific issue confronting the neighborhood. That issue could be something like organizing to block certain outside developments or circumstances that are considered harmful to the neighborhood, or just to get some seasonal parties going. They typically have small dues, but you aren’t required to pay them or even to join the HOA.

Mandatory HOAs – If you buy a house in a mandatory HOA neighborhood, you are required to join the HOA by virtue of the fact that you will be a homeowner in that neighborhood. There is no provision for you to opt out – once you close on the sale, you’re in. There are generally substantial neighborhood amenities, commonly a pool, tennis courts, a club house, playgrounds and a formal entryway into the neighborhood. You will be required to pay an HOA fee, on an annual, semi-annual, quarterly, or monthly basis. There are covenants and restrictions, that you will be required to sign at closing, that will include bylaws that mostly tell you what you can’t do with your property.

Condominium HOAs – This kind of HOA is much like the mandatory HOA, except that it provides more substantial amenities. When you buy a condo, you own only the interior of the home. The exterior, from the walls and ceiling outward, are common property. That means they’re owned by the HOA. As a result, condo HOAs can be even more restrictive than those that cover detached homes. However, condo HOAs also bear greater responsibility. Since the physical structures are owned by the HOA, it is the HOA that must pay to make exterior repairs and improvements, including replacing the roof, pavement, landscaping, windows and siding as needed. They also pay the hazard (exterior) home insurance on the property, and often certain utilities, such as trash removal. Fees are usually monthly and a lot higher than with detached housing. But the HOA will also provide certain services, such as landscaping and snow removal. It’s the perfect arrangement for people who don’t want to concern themselves with exterior maintenance of any kind.

Non-mandatory HOAs really can’t hurt you in any way, and condominiums are a different animal entirely in which you share ownership of the home with the HOA, who provides very specific and substantial services. As well, with condos most people recognize that property use is both restricted and totally necessary due to the communal nature of the arrangement.

What I’m going to focus on from here on are mandatory HOAs in non-condominium neighborhoods. They won’t replace your roof or maintain your yard, but they have a labyrinth of rules and restrictions that can seriously challenge the assumption that you actually own your home and are free to do with it as you please.

Even worse, mandatory HOAs can negatively affect your economic situation. We’ll get to that in some detail in a bit.

What Makes HOA Neighborhoods Such a Threat?

I’m convinced that most people who buy into mandatory HOA neighborhoods have no idea what they’re stepping into – until they run afoul of the association board.

If you don’t already get it, the primary purpose of HOAs is to maintain and improve property values in the neighborhood. Before you go thinking that’s a good thing, imagine that your house is controlled by a stock broker, who’s only objective is to increase the value of your property.

While that may be a good thing on the day you sell the house, how it plays out between now and then will be another matter entirely. The problem is that how we live our lives is usually not consistent with what is necessary to maintain and increase property values.

In order to carry out the business of increasing property values, the HOA enacts and enforces a series of rules designed to ensure that neighborhood standards of conformity are met. You’ve probably noticed that HOA neighborhoods tend to have dozens or hundreds of substantially identical homes. This is by design. Conformity is easier to enforce in similar homes. Customization of any kind becomes easier to spot.

The HOA will limit what color you can paint your house, how many people can live in it, how many – and what type of – vehicles you can park in the driveway, how often you need to paint the exterior, where you place your garbage dumpsters, and the condition of your landscaping. They can also prevent you from adding on to the house, or maintaining out-buildings, like tool sheds or a tree house for your kids. And that’s just the general stuff.

Once you’ve been prohibited from doing something with your property, or made to do something you don’t want to, you begin to get a clearer picture of what’s really going on.

To add insult to injury, should you be found to be in violation the HOA has the legal right to impose legally enforceable fines on you, that are automatically attached to your property.

Some Real Life Examples of What an HOA Can Do

In case you think that I’m exaggerating about this in any way, here are some real-life HOA horror stories:

HOA Horror Story #1. My wife and I discovered that our friends on the board of our HOA were not our friends at all when we had the exterior of our house repainted. We had the house painted gray with pink shutters, like you might find on a New England cottage. We got a lot of compliments from our neighbors. Then the notice came from our HOA. The gray was fine, but our pink shutters were too…pink. We had to drab them down, or face a battery of consequences, including accelerating fines, that the notice apprised us were the associations legal right to pursue. All color schemes that departed from the original that came with your house required pre-approval by the board. So much for freedom of choice.

HOA Horror Story #2. One of my best friends (who moved into the same neighborhood after we moved out) got a notice from the HOA telling him he needed to put curtains on the second floor windows of his house. The reason: “neighbors” (an HOA’s favorite subterfuge) complained that they could see the furniture in his bedroom windows. I still can’t make sense out of that one, but it was similar to the notice that we received for the offensive paint job on our shutters.

HOA Horror Story #3. A mortgage client of mine received notice from his HOA that he and his wife needed to store their three-year-old daughter’s toys out of sight, rather than letting them sit in the backyard. I’m not sure exactly what the crime was here, but they were forced to comply.

HOA Horror Story #4. A distraught friend of mine called me one day telling me that she had just received notice from her HOA informing her of a recently passed rule requiring all vehicles to be garaged between the hours of midnight and six a.m. No overnight parking of vehicles either in driveways or on streets would be permitted. Since all houses in the neighborhood had no more than a two car garage, this was a fundamental issue for anyone with kids who also have cars. I’m not sure what they were going for with this one either, but I thought that it would create a security risk, since the entire neighborhood would look abandoned overnight. She sold and moved out shortly after.

HOA Economic Use Limitations

Since this is a personal finance blog, I want to focus more closely on the effect that HOAs have in regard to your ability to earn a living. We’re not even going to get into the fact that HOA dues will be required even if you’re unemployed and don’t have the money to make the payment, but I digress.

Conformity is the rule in HOA neighborhoods. The preference in a typical HOA neighborhood is to have people work in white-collar positions, or if they’re self-employed, to work in “clean businesses”. That mostly restricts you to businesses that involve nothing more than your computer and telephone. The more that you depart from this ideal, the greater the potential to face a confrontation with the HOA – a confrontation you’re destined to lose.

If you work in one of those two preferred capacities, you probably are not the least bit concerned that the association might limit other activities. You might even be happy about it. But what would happen if you lost your job or your clean business were to fail? What if you need to pursue economic and financial options that didn’t fit neatly within those parameters? These days, you should never be too certain that can’t happen to you – it can happen to anyone.

And if it happens to you, you’ll find yourself economically constrained by the very restrictions you once enthusiastically supported.

This is just my opinion, and I’ll be the first to admit that I can’t substantiate this with hard evidence, but I believe that the preference in a typical HOA would be for you to move out of the neighborhood. After all, struggling homeowners aren’t good for property values. Part of how HOAs protect and advance property values is by keeping out the “riff-raff” (I was actually told that by the president of a condo HOA we were considering moving to). They’re always on the look-out for even a hint of it. If you start to resemble anything close to that riff-raff, you may come into their crosshairs.

Here are some of the economic/financial activities that a typical HOA will prevent you from engaging in:

  • Renting a room to a boarder to earn extra money to help pay your mortgage.
  • Growing food in your backyard (flowers fine, tomatoes – no good!).
  • Parking a commercial vehicle on or near your property.
  • Storing major tools or inventory in your house.
  • Meeting customers or clients at your house.
  • Constructing out-buildings or erecting equipment used in connection with a business.

A lot of people today are being forced to retool into lines of work they never imagined. Living in an HOA neighborhood won’t help you do that if you decide that you want to start a cleaning business, a home remodeling business, a sales operation, a landscaping business, or if you want to become a truck driver.

HOA neighborhoods are conducive to people in a very narrow career range. It’s important to understand the implications of this if you are facing a decision to buy a house in an HOA neighborhood. Should you hit on hard times, or decide to enter a career or business that is not consistent with the covenants and restrictions, the HOA can legally get in the way of your operation.

Your Recourse: Practically non-existent!

An attorney friend of mine here in Georgia told me that once you buy into an HOA neighborhood you have no choice but to go along with their rules. Not just the ones that exist when you move in, but any subsequent rules that are passed. In Georgia at least, and I suspect in many other states as well, HOAs have legal preference before the courts, not the least of which because you sign in on agreement with the covenants and restrictions at the time of closing (you have no choice, other than to not buy the house), signaling your willingness to comply. According to this attorney, legal challenges against HOAs typically don’t end well.

The unkindest cut is that they can impose a series of fines for non-compliance. These fines will increase in size the longer you fail to comply. They can then place a lien on your house, forcing you to pay out of the sale of the house. Presumably, they can block the sale if there isn’t enough equity to cover the fines, but my guess is that they’ll be happy to see you go and won’t let the unpaid fines stand in your way. But that won’t stop them from obtaining an unsecured judgment against you after the fact.

While you may think that you can somehow insulate yourself from hostile action by your HOA by being a good neighbor, don’t count on it. Most of the HOA issues I’m familiar with were brought against people who were otherwise good and compliant neighbors.

HOAs and The People Factor

HOAs represent a level of government, one close enough to the ground to be manipulated by its participants. Not all of those participants have good intentions.

I’ll be accused of painting with a broad brush, but HOA boards are often collection points for the worst kinds of people who could be in charge. While I readily acknowledge that there are a lot of people serving on HOA boards who have the purest of intentions, there are plenty of the other kind. I’ve known some people who joined boards but got run off by the games.

Some examples of the kinds of people who are drawn to become HOA board members:

  • People who have political aspirations, and see an HOA board membership as a springboard.
  • People who are looking for an extracurricular activity – particularly one of rank and responsibility – to add to their business resume.
  • People who thrive on popularity and being the center of attention.
  • People who have an ax to grind with a neighbor, and join the board so that they can do something about it.
  • People who want to set the rules but not obey them. (Our HOA had a restriction on unleashed pets, but the HOA treasurer let his dog run the neighborhood freely early every morning.)
  • Control freaks – people with an abiding need to be in charge.
  • People who like being part of “the clique”, which the HOA board often is.

Unfortunately, many or most of these personalities tend to be of like-mind, which makes disputing the board’s actions mostly a waste of time. A popular radio personality here in Atlanta once ranted about HOAs, saying they’re elitist at the core, and I have to agree. As I said earlier, the primary goal is to increase property values, which doesn’t leave much room for neighborly interaction. It can be surprising and shocking how “official” they can be when carrying out board agenda. It’s as if they aren’t even your neighbors, but more like precinct overseers.

Here’s another complication to ponder about HOAs, but this one has nothing to do with the board – HOAs are made to order for resident complaining neighbors. Every neighborhood has at least one – that person who believes that it’s their duty to make sure that everyone in the neighborhood “behaves”.

It could also be someone who has a specific bone to pick with you, and decides to turn you into the board whenever possible. That person usually makes a part-time career of studying and understanding the covenants and restrictions, so that he or she can pull them out against an unsatisfactory neighbor at any time. They won’t bring their concerns to you – they’ll go to the board, where they can complain anonymously. And like it or not, the board will usually side with whoever’s doing the complaining.

In a strange, twisted way, HOAs can feed neurotic behavior.

Swimming against the tide

Most people assume the best when it comes to HOAs – that is, until they have a conflict with the board. Only then do they realize the true extent of what they’ve signed themselves up for. By then, it’s usually too late. It’s then that you come to realize that HOA neighborhoods are not democracies.

I realize that most people have a favorable view of HOA neighborhoods, not the least of which because rising property values are considered the Holy Grail of homeownership in America. But if any of the issues I’ve listed above will be a concern to you, or if you’re at least a bit of a nonconformist, or if you have any career aspirations beyond the white-collar corporate cubicle, you might do well to avoid HOA neighborhoods if you possibly can.

And you usually can.

Have you had any negative experiences in an HOA neighborhood?

( Photo by MyBiggestFan )

99 Responses to Why You Should Avoid Buying in HOA Neighborhoods

  1. That’s a cool post. When I moved from the country to the city – I was shocked that people actually enjoy paying HOA fees.

    I’ve lived in HOA neighborhoods more often than not unfortunately. One house, the company the HOA hired to mow the lawns did a terrible job. Constantly tearing up our lawn.

    I won’t buy a house with a HOA. I don’t want anymore regulation to my life.

  2. Hi Will – Based on our previous experience, and that of people we know and trust, we’ll never be in one either.

    The coup de grace for me was the day I was at a real estate closing – I was handling the mortgage for someone who was buying in my HOA neighborhood – and the real estate agent (who also lived in the nbhd) was bragging to the buyer to “get in close with so-and-so, she knows everything about everybody in the neighborhood.” We moved out shortly after that episode. I had previously heard rumors about such information circulating, but this was the first time someone close to the pulse was openly admitting to it. There was a lot of cattiness, in addition to all the restrictions.

  3. I’ve never lived in an HOA neighborhood and I never will for the reasons you posted about above and then some. It’s my home and I’ll do what I please, if you have a problem, come and talk to me about it. I’m a fairly reasonable person and I’m not out to piss my neighbors off so we can likely come to some sort of resolution or compromise.

  4. Then you’re doing right by staying out of HOA neighborhoods Matt. There’s always something that ticks people off about one or more neighbors, but people prefer to avoid confrontation. If they happen to live in an HOA neighborhood, they can have it both ways – they can complain and they can avoid direct confrontation. I suppose that if a person were a certified complainer, they’d actually prefer to live in an HOA.

  5. I’ve lived in a HOA community for most of my life. My mother had to pay many fees growing up and most of the time didn’t seem worth it at all.

  6. Hi Alexis – I agree with that. In our HOA we had a pool and tennis court, but at least 75% of the residents never used them at all. My thinking was that amenities should be a separate fee – if you don’t intend to use them, you don’t pay for them. But from what I’ve seen the recreational amenities are the primary control the HOA has over the residents. It’s another example of how HOA neighborhoods are not democracies. You’ll pay for amenities even if you don’t use them.

  7. We lived in a gated HOA for a few years. Never again. We paid our assessments faithfully, but the HOA only did selective maintenance. They did a terrible job maintaining the retention ponds, several of which became dried up, foul smelling eyesores. The roads were covered with wide cracks and areas of buckling. What a waste of money.

    The Board was not serving the interests of the community, and treated owners like outlaws if they complained about rules or poor maintenance. Very few people attended meetings. When I did, I witnessed Board members engaging in shouting matches with and threats to owners. It almost came to blows, so the Board then started having a uniformed security officer at every meeting.

    The Board balked at providing access to financial records, either ignoring requests or providing incomplete documentation.

    It was easier to sell and move out that fight the HOA, because HOA corporations have more power than the government. See Evan McKenzie’s books (Privatopia and Beyind Privatopia) and Ward Lucas’ book (Neighbors at War)

  8. Hi Deborah – I’m with you on the board treating residents like outlaws. I attended a couple of meetings at our HOA neighborhood and I was put off by the cavalier attitude the board members had (which is why I didn’t attend more). To be honest, the word “Nazi” came to mind. They weren’t soliciting opinions and suggestions from the DUES PAYING residents, they were giving marching orders. And I also completely agree that they have more power than local governments. They seem to be run for the benefit of the board members, and their grandstanding efforts. I suspect that the people who join who want to make legitimate improvements are soon forced out when they realize what’s really going on. Honestly, it often felt as if we were back in high school! But that seems to be the mentality.

    For what it’s worth, I’ve seen a few HOAs disband after the neighborhoods fell into serious disrepair. Once the money is gone, so are the ego maniacs that run the board. Money is the power, and when there isn’t any more, they disappear.

  9. I am experiencing HOA for the first time. I inherited my house from my mother n law. We get letters at least once a month about something we need to “take care of”. Is there a way that I can tell which neighbors are on the HOA committee without going to their meetings? I have a funny feeling someone’s having a good time with us Newbies ratting out every little thing to the HOA board.

  10. Hi Suzanne – Check to see if there’s a website for the HOA, that should list the officers. It may be that either the house is in disrepair, or you’ve got one of the self-appointed neighborhood sheriffs trying to push you around. Every HOA neighborhood has it’s resident complainers, and when they zero in on you…it’s a problem.

  11. This is a very good article. I lived in a mandatory HOA neighborhood for 7 years, and I spent almost $20K to move out of the neighborhood as fast as possible, before selling my house. If you live in an HOA neighborhood, you are giving away many basic rights of home ownership that we all take for granted. You are investing a large part of your savings into a home that you do not completely own. If you disagree with an HOA Board, your rights are very limited, except to move. Fighting an HOA in court is a waste of money, and often an HOA Board has unlimited legal funds. Often HOA Board members are people that want to micromanage the neighborhood and have been on the board for many years. Living in an HOA neighborhood is like living in a different country with it’s own set of laws. While I lived in that neighborhood, I saw several families move out of the neighborhood because of the HOA. Finally, I moved out of the neighborhood, because of the HOA. I never want to live in another HOA neighborhood again.
    Thanks,
    Jim West

  12. Hi Jim – Thanks for sharing your story, I think it will help clarify what goes on in HOA neighborhoods. A closing attorney I worked with in Georgia told me that HOAs have almost unlimited legal standing, at least in GA. State laws favor them in legal actions, which is why it’s almost impossible to succeed in litigation against them. I think the state probably views them as little municipalities, and grants them similar legal standing. Either that or the developers have a lot of pull in state government. I don’t know of a single challenge against an HOA that was successful, and in an area like Atlanta, with its literally thousands of HOA neighborhoods, you’d think there’d have to be a few. It’s a nice arrangement – for the HOAs. Maybe that’s why so many people want to get on the boards. If you can’t beat em, join em, right?

  13. I lived in an HOA neighborhood in Buford, Georgia. We had to put our garbage out and was out of town for one day. In ONE DAY they posted a notice on my door that they were going to fine us $150 a day if we didn’t move it from the curb. We were not home.

    Then, the unthinkable happened in 2000. The whole industry I worked in collapsed – telecommunications. Nortel Networks laid off 50,000 employees. I was one of them, but one of the last, making it impossible to find a job in my expertise which was the technical/engineering end of the business. Well, time for the HOA dues came around. I wrote a very friendly letter to the HOA explaining the situation and that we were going to have to sell the home as I could not find ANY employment, and I do mean ANY. I tried everywhere, even Burger King. I went from making $100k to zero in one day. This unemployment lasted for over a year. Well, long story short, the HOA began threatening to attach a lien to my home. So I wrote the HOA president an extremely nasty letter telling him to go ahead and I’ll file bankruptcy so how do you like them there apples? I was almost to the point that this so-called “human” had absolutely no capability for empathy and it was clear that these NAZIS were all about money, control, and power. Supposed to keep up the value/increase value of the homes, right? Well, the builder in Phase-II built tiny homes relative to the ones we all lived in. This in fact broke their own rules. This greatly reduced the value of our home and made it extremely difficult to sell. We did finally short sell it. I’ll never, ever live in an HOA community again. I had no idea what I was getting into. I’ve never seen such a group of over-“ambitious” control freak sociopath is my life. The president’s name was an entertaining name easy to make a joke out of. It was Jack ‘something’. I can’t recall right now, but I definitely made fun of his name when he showed that he was so sociopathic, narcissistic, and inhumane that I was inches from showing up at his doorstep fully prepared to go to jail after I beat him down right in front of his family and the neighbors. I never imagined getting such a rude and obnoxious reply from this horse’s arse than I got. I was in shock. I made it clear that I’d take care of the payment as soon as possible as well. I had no intention to try to get out of paying it. I simply COULD NOT pay it. Let me give anyone some advice who is considering moving into such a neighborhood: Follow what I’m telling you and what the author has told you. Stay away – stay very, very far away from HOA’s, particularly in the state of Georgia. The author is absolutely right in that it is a place for over-zealous type-a control freak personalities to get their rocks off by exercising draconian control over others. For the author to state that they often have political aspirations and want to use the HOA as some kind of “I have governance experience” is correct, and horrifying. You definitely would not want any of these people to have any power over you or your property. I kept to myself, I kept a clean home, and a clean and well-landscaped yard. I still to this day, in December 2014 have a desire to hunt this guy down and punch his lights out. Let me be clear I’m not a violent person, I’ve never been jailed or convicted of any crime, and I actually hold a secret clearance with the DoD. I’m as laid back as you’ll find and a very logical and reasonable person. If I were the president of the HOA, and it had been him, the a-hole president who approached me about his situation, I would say, don’t sweat it, I’ve got your back and will defend you to the HOA. You’ve been a great and responsible resident, and I understand your terrible situation, and I’m sorry to hear it. I would then ask what could I do to personally help his family within my ability. I hope he reads this. I hope he remembers. Let me tell you this – you WILL reap what you sow, and I bet before it was all said and done, his job was lost and his own home on the auction block. At the time, within 6 months half the homes had for sale signs in the yard. It wasn’t just me. I hope that when 911 happened (yeah, I was still living there when that drove a nail in my job chance coffin), that he lost his job, his home, and everything he owned, and all of his savings. As I said, I wouldn’t normally wish such things on anyone, but I hope that he got his own. I hope that he suffered immensely in one way or another. People who are unable to display empathy for others are social deviants and need to be in a mental institution. Bottom line here is just don’t do it unless you are a glutton for punishment.

    I now live in the countryside. Further, I went on to earn a M.Sc. degree in engineering, and I have a little left to complete a Ph.D. as well. I have a great job, and feel blessed to have it. I pulled myself up by the bootstraps. I toughed it out, went back to school working as a Research Assistant, and I got back on my feet without help from anyone. I never asked the government or anyone else for a dime.

    If you get caught up on the wrong side of the HOA, or even join one, then you have walked into a trap and a scam. So you’ve been rightfully warned! Do it at your own risk. If you are a jerk, well, it may be just right for you. If you do move into a mandatory HOA neighborhood, then be prepared for battle because it’s only a matter of time that they find some minor infraction that you’ve committed and must come down upon you like the Gestapo. If you voluntarily do this after having done research on it, well, you certainly deserve the grief that you will get, and you will get it.

  14. Hi Joe – Your story is an all too common one, especially in Georgia. Most people are completely unaware of these issues, and ignorance is bliss – until they get caught in the snare. Personally, I think most people think HOAs are great because (in theory) they produce higher housing appreciation. I’ve seen the opposite in declining markets. It’s harder to sell a house that’s just like dozens of other almost identical properties in the same subdivision.

    On a deeper level, I think it’s the herd instinct applied to housing. People blindly flock into HOA neighborhoods because people blindly flock into HOA neighborhoods. And of course, for their part the media doesn’t help by trumpeting the “many advantages” of HOA neighborhoods. This is something of a dark secret that only those who have been burned understand. And most people don’t worry about such things as long as it isn’t happening to them. But they need to understand that if it can happen to your neighbor, it can happen to you.

  15. HOA’s are not corporations, they are municipalities despite what idiot lawyers and judges (and home builders) try to force down peoples throats. Since when can a corporation have control over your own personal property. They try to say you have no constitutional rights because it’s a corporation, like a corporation can have you sign a document to make you a slave or control your personal life. The problem is people are putting up with this crap even while they complain about it – one reason is lawyers make money from it so why do the right thing and get rid of them. If I’m on a jury where someone mowed down everyone involved with an HOA because of some bush, color, or some other nonsense, I’ll be sure to say not guilty. The founders put the people in control.

    And one more thing, you really don’t have a choice anymore, all the big home builders and cities are forcing hoa’s so if you can find a non-hoa location, it’s probably in homes 50+ years old in busy parts of the town. Income Tax, HOA’s, Gun Control are the big 3 for me to repeal.

  16. Hi Dee – I agree with all that you wrote. I think the problem is that the majority of people think that HOAs are a good thing, that they’ll keep property values up, keep out the “riff raff” and in general, keep an eye on things. They have no idea about the darker side of HOAs until they have a run in with them. And by then, it’s too late, and they’re assigned to the fringe of neighborhood malcontents who probably need to move. I have no doubt that HOAs also target people, perhaps because they want them out. Unassailable power makes that possible. It’s a horrible system that everyone willingly goes along with.

  17. NEVER, EVER moving into those HOA neo-Nazi communities. They can go sit on it.

  18. Hi Hector – Your description SOUNDS like an exaggeration, but might not be in a lot of cases. When you’re dealing with them, they can seem to be just that. With some there’s zero wiggle room – do it their way or else.

  19. I had an HOA give me guff about my ’72 Cadillac in the driveway, and my red shutters once, threatening me with legal measures. So I had a couple of associates pay a visit to the HOA president at their office one night, putting the fear of God into him. Telling him what would happen if the neighborhood association ever got out of line again, and failed to comply with my wishes. Suddenly, nobody had any issue with my car, my shutters, or even the bougainvillea planted in my yard. They just shut the hell up like a good little HOA, and all was peaceful.

  20. Hi Dino – If anyone did that to the HOA chieftains where we lived they would have been promptly arrested (I’m not kidding). Though I must admit, the thought of doing what you did would have been really tempting.

  21. Anyone that does not want to live in a HOA neighborhood, then go live where there in no control of what happens to houses around you. Cars on blocks, houses painted pink and green, grass not cut. Go ahead, and see how fast your property values drop. And the guy that made the statement about his threat to the president and the board. Try that with me, you would be sucking your food through a straw if you put your hands on me or be in jail. HOA are a good thing, because it keeps the red necks out that have no pride about their home.

  22. I’ve actually heard exactly what you said when I was living in Georgia, that the purpose of HOAs is to keep out rednecks. But having lived in neighborhoods that didn’t have HOAs, I think the argument is way overblown. Most neighborhoods do just fine without HOAs. I always trust people more than systems; I think that HOAs are a statement that people can’t be trusted. I don’t buy it.

  23. We want to leave our neighborhood because of our HOA Board. One HOA Board member got caught, via our security cameras, peeping at our teenage daughter sitting in the backyard. When she heard him, he started talking to her, said he was friends with me and knew me, that it was okay to let him in the house. (He is not a friend of mine, I do not know the guy). My daughter ran into the house and called 911. Unfortunately, we couldn’t press charges against the Peeping Tom HOA Board Member -I guess in our state if my daughter was naked or in a bathing suit it would be considered a crime. When I complained to our HOA Board and made public this issue to my fellow neighbors, my HOA Board circled the wagons around their guy. Posts I made on our neighborhood FB page were edited, the HOA sent out a completely different version of what actually occurred. So, I went onto the local news. Gained a lot of public support. My HOA Board still stands behind their guy, says he’s a decent man, and I’m a trouble maker. HOA Board is practicing “gas-lighting” on me…questioning my motives for making this issue public, trying to tell me that my neighbors are against me, that I need to drop the issue. I’ll do that when the perv is off the board and gone.

  24. Hi Jessi – I can’t comment on the event that triggered your concern, since I don’t know the particulars or the laws in your state. I’m not sure that it’s a crime in any state to stare at a person who is outside the home, which may be why the police didn’t do anything. I’d be more concerned that this guy wanted to come into the house. But be that as it may, HOA boards are often made up of the self-styled elite in each neighborhood, and they can be incredibly clannish. I’m not surprised that they’d circle the wagons around this guy. One of my theories is that HOA boards tend to be collection points for people who want to make rules for others, while not being subject to them themselves. Your only recourse is to move, unless this guy gets more aggressive and his actions rise to the level of what it clearly a crime. He probably knows just how far to go with it to stay within legal limits. Of course, for the sake of your daughter, you don’t want this to get any worse. Now if he does it to someone else in the neighborhood that could be a game changer. I don’t know if I’d feel comfortable sitting around waiting for that to happen though.

  25. Question: We are in a voluntary hoa but the hoa has covenants and restrictions that are legally filed and they are registered with the state. Also, our town recognizes them as our neighborhood hoa. One of my neighbors is concerned that if enough residents pay the hoa dues that this will hit some kind of percentage and turn the voluntary hoa into a mandatory hoa. IS this true?

  26. It depends on 1) the laws in your state, and 2) the specific language in your covenants. I’ve seen language that permits the dissolution of an HOA, but never one that creates a mandatory one. That said, the HOA we lived in was voluntary when we bought the house (as to the annual dues) but became mandatory right after. I don’t know if that happened because of provisions in the HOA docs, or if they had a special referendum. Either way we were stuck with something we didn’t anticipate when we closed on the house.

  27. What a nightmare. I lived in two hoa’s before this one with no real problems except a bit of bickering about the color of flowers. This one is small one a total of 9 homeowners at present, half on the board in some capacity. The president is a nazi, ex miami cop who retired at 55 into a half million dollar house with his buddy moving next door to him, another ex miami cop. This is North Carolina. The day after I close on my beautiful retirement home the nazi shows up at my door and starts grilling me with questions about my builder and says there is a meeting scheduled about my house. He also has a telescope on the house obviously as he says I saw the locksmith over at your house yesterday and assumed you closed on the house. The locksmith car was at the bottom of the hill, he couldn’t get up because of snow, I went down to get him. I had closed on the house or I surely would have backed out immediately. The next day he calls me on the phone and starts harassing me by talking about how i could be getting into law suits with an hoa. than he calls and says i did a drive by and your garbage cans are out on the wrong day of the week. he trespassed on the property took pictures and measured the deck before I closed. He fined the builder at the meeting I went to after closing on the house for the deck being not exactly the measurements he originally put before the board and a set of stairs that went down from the deck. He said they improved the value but fined my builder anyway. He has collected 650 x 22 lots that are owned for a culvert that is about to cave in to the point we will have to trespass on a neighbors property to get out of here. two weeks after i move in he sends an e mail he wants 350 dollars more from the 22 lot owners. No explanation, no bids shows, no work orders written, no statements that show where the other money went.
    no date for completion, no name of a company even. I said NO and i sent it to all the other neighbors, I said show me bank statements and receipts from where all the money went and the finalized bid, work order and date and IF more money is needed I will pay it. He has refused to show any financials, but he sure has shut up about asking for any more money and has refused to fix the culvert. He plays good cop bad cop real well. Even with me. Harassing me before the meeting and at the meeting acting like he was my best friend. He stirs it up and than watches everybody in this tiny community go after each other. His yard is the biggest mess you have ever seen and from what I have heard it has been that way for years. The entire front lawn has been destroyed to i guess put in a retaining wall and it is one big slope mud pit. I want out of here. He says he wants to add a bunch of covenants for building … I said you do that and nobody will build in this neighborhood. But he looked at everybody at that meeting with this loppy dog eared look and said now … I need all of your votes to get this through . I thought I was going to throw up. My retirement home. These hoa’s they need to be banned! they are illegal. this one says they can come on the property trespass … are you kidding me? American was founded on originality and it is why we have prospered. This elitist … everyone has to be exactly cloned. HOA’s if people have a choice of hoa or not today I think they will not choose an HOA. I know I surely won’t. I think realtor and zillow are in the process of putting that as a search stipulation because it is becoming a nightmare for more and more people. Renegade nazi board members.
    Until you experience it, you don’t understand the depth of loss of the freedom to own the land, the property, the home, that you paid your own money for.

  28. Hi Frank – Wow, I really feel bad for you (though I know that isn’t any help). You might want to take the hit now and sell and get out before this gets any worse. We live in an HOA neighborhood right now, but we rent on a month-to-month basis. I don’t like a lot of what the HOA does, but as a tenant I’m not locked into it, and we can leave at any time if need be. We stay because we like the neighborhood, the neighbors and the location, but we can do without a lot of these arbitrary rules. I get the need for rules, but when you get people on the board who get off on those rules, you have a big problem. And you can forget about voting the trouble makers off the board, HOAs are tailor made for that kind. They seem to attract control freaks, which in your case isn’t helped by the fact that your HOA president is an ex-cop. He probably doesn’t know when it’s time to stop being a cop, and an HOA is the perfect place for him to continue pretending to still be one. I know it will cost you money to get out of there, but you really have to have heart-to-heart with yourself about whether or not you want to spend your retirement dealing with that situation, to say nothing of what it will cost you in fines and to comply with the new rules that will inevitably be enacted as time goes on. Somethings can’t be measured solely in money, and this may be one of them.

  29. Our HOA doesn’t maintain but a very small portions of grass. We get our water cut off periodically because the water pipes were not properly installed under the roads and keep breaking. So our HOA basically owns our water pipes instead of the city. So our water payments actually goes to the HOA and then gets paid from the HOA. My wife and I see HOA’s for what they are another fake government authority. We even received a towing threat for having my vehicle parked legally under our car port (really the HOA’s carport) with expired tags. I still have insurance on it but that doesn’t count. I just suggest that everyone start complaining to your State Representatives and local City Council all the you can. Ask them to do away with HOA’s. To me trying to own a home involving a HOA is like trying to buy an apartment in an apartment complex.

  30. Hi Andrew – You and your wife hit the nail on the head with “another fake government authority”. That’s basically what they are, and for that reason they DO have teeth, legally speaking. You can go ahead and try to have the HOA system dismantled, but it’s really all about economics. Builders hold incredible sway since they’re fast tax revenue generators, so you face an uphill fight politically. Since you used the word “tags” I assume you live in the South, possibly Georgia (tags is a Southern term for what are more commonly referred to as license plates in the North), you face a serious fight. In my time living in Georgia it was clear that the builders own the state. And they’re the ones who create the HOAs, largely for marketing purposes.

    There’s also the issue of public perception. I believe most people see HOAs as desirable, because they enforce restrictions (on other people, or so they think) and work to increase property values. I covered this in the post, but it’s a serious obstacle. People will sell their souls to the Devil if it means they’ll get more money in the deal. The only people who will join the fight against the HOA tidal wave are the relatively small number of residents who have come into their cross hairs. And since most of them ultimately move out into a non-HOA neighborhood, they may not care too much anymore.

    With regard to the towing threat on car with expired tags, see the story in the post about the friend of mine who was informed that they can no longer park their cars in their own driveways overnight. It can always be worse! As a postscript, she and her family moved out of that neighborhood.

  31. Hi Andrew – You’re pointing to a bigger picture problem, which is the institutionalization of strict control in a nation that once revered freedom. I don’t know if there’s a way to reverse that trend. As a nation, we’ve come to blindly believe that more control from the top is always the solution to what ever problems we have.

    It started, I think, in the 1930s with the New Deal. As that got rolling people decided that if a little bit of control is good, then more is even better. It’s now a mindset. We have HOAs running neighborhoods, schools run like prisons (we didn’t have police in schools when I was growing up), political correctness to control our speech, constant surveillance, we-say-so-government – the list is endless. It continues because most people have been convinced that it’s good for us. But as the saying goes, “too much of anything isn’t good for you.”

    The problem is that once that becomes part of the national mindset, reversing it becomes a lifelong crusade most of us don’t have time for. The best we can do in the short run is to vote with our feet, and get out of situations, like HOA neighborhoods whenever and where ever we can. Then hopefully, the HOA concept will die a slow death.

  32. There is A LOT more to the HOA story than written here.

    I’ve lived in one for almost eleven years. Trying to gain access to financial records after discovering we have 10 MILLION DOLLARS unaccounted for resulted in a lawsuit where the board president told the judge the HOA “had no records!” This of course was after the 20 year board president dropped dead shortly after I hired an attorney. The successor to the dead president was also into self-dealing and proceeded to renovate the clubhouse funneling the work through her decorating business. After that, she created a publishing business and printed the community newsletter where she sold advertising to local businesses and pocketed the money for herself. This was not known by the homeowners until she was questioned on the witness stand by an attorney in a jury trial against the HOA. Since she called the homeowners she didn’t like “pariahs” in the newsletter that was the only reason we learned the truth about the publishing business.

    HOAs are a thieves’ paradise. Board members are volunteers as the author said. Generally speaking there are no background checks, no skills required, and the Directors & Officers Insurance (paid for with the HOA dues) protects them for the most part from personal liability if they opt to be bad actors.

    I live in a townhouse. It’s similar to a condo except it sits attached side by side not stacked. The HOA did not maintain the exterior siding to the point the electric meters fell off in or torrential rain storm. This caused massive damage to the inside of my house. That resulted in lawsuit #2 because the HOA claimed they held no liability for the interior damages. They also did not clean the neighbor’s gutters for years and the overflow caused all the soil under my patio to be sucked out and the hydro-static pressure against my basement wall caused it to crack. That left me with a river running through my finished basement for three years. I’m now on lawsuit #3. The HOA did not maintain the driveway and the fence. The fence is rotten and falling down making it not safe for a child or dog to be enclosed by it. The driveway dropped below the garage floor causing water to run under the floor and into the basement. This resulted in me having to use four-wheel drive to put my vehicle into the garage. I also had to have the basement floor jack-hammered and a sump pump installed and attached to the drainage system that had to be installed after the crack in the foundation wall was repaired on the other side of the basement.

    There is a whole lot more but my experience has been a living nightmare since the day I moved in. The dues are now $250 per month! The HOA has borrowed a million dollars and uses the dues to service that debt. They spend an average of $1,000 per week on their attorney and have countless lawsuits pending. They breach their contract and then sue the homeowners that refuse to pay the dues. It’s insanity at it’s best.

    The end result has been the lost of all of my retirement savings, the stress has caused me to lose all of the pigment in my skin, and I have Shingles. I would never own in another HOA if the place was paid in full and given as a gift! I paid cash for this nightmare and I’ve spent twice that amount to rebuild this place plus more on lawsuits. I’ve also worked with our legislators to pass a bill to try and help the homeowners. Unfortunately, the CAI was involved in that and took the teeth out of it. I’m working again now to put teeth back into into the law. The HOAs just ignore it because there is no penalty for violations.

    I suggest the books that Deborah Goonan mentioned above and would add listening to the HOA radio show podcasts at onthecommons dot net. In addition the website of neighborsatwar dot com gives daily exposure to the HOA stories that are known. There are far more unknown than known but the activists are working on exposing the entire truth about HOAs.

    Best advice…if there is a HOA, COA, POA, CID, PUD, CO-OP, or any other type of common interest ownership on the property…..RUN LIKE YOUR HAIR IS ON FIRE!

    Buying into an HOA means: you are signing away your Constitutional Rights. Becoming business partners with all of your new neighbors in a non-profit corporation. And becoming the guarantor for payment on all debts, loans, lawsuits, liabilities, settlements, construction defects, and disaster rebuilds. The risks are massive and once the ink dries it’s too late to escape until you find another sucker to take your place inside of the nightmare.

    Do not buy into the propaganda that HOAs protect property values. That is what the CAI and the Realtors spew but there is plenty of proof that HOAs indeed depreciate property values!

  33. Hi Nila – Thanks for weighing in! I’m sorry for the nightmare you’re in, but let’s hope that others will benefit from your experience. While I think that what you’re going through is at the extreme end of possibilities in an HOA, it’s something everyone who aspires to live in an HOA neighborhood needs to consider. As we’ve found out from some of the comments on this thread, HOA problems in the extreme can get as bad or worse than we can imagine. You’ve made the point well Nila.

  34. Kevin,

    Thank you for replying to my comment. Well, we reside in Texas. My wife is from Georgia. I am from Florida. Sadly I know you are right about the uphill battle. People are waking up that the corruption of control is starting to appear in everyone’s back yard and even inside their homes. Eventually any extreme control causes revolutions to take place. To me HOA’s are not immune to this. When over 50% start recognizing the fraud of systems of control, the control systems start to collapse. The thing is that it’s easy to fool an overwhelming population and get away with fraud. When you loose the ability to fool over 50% of the popular vote the majority start coming together no matter the cost. This is why I mention to start complaining about HOAs to the local and State governments. They are already beginning to get a lot of complaints about property rights and big government. Right now I just think Americans are just now starting to really talk about solutions to help one another gain back some of our freedoms that we have given up. To me HOA is a perfect example of what happens when authority is misused and given to private interest groups.

  35. Kevin,

    I’ve read through all of these posts and I’ve heard these stories hundreds of times from people all across America. This is not just a Georgia problem.

    Be careful as a tenant in an HOA. You are obligated to follow every HOA rule whether you know about them or not. I got a call from a lady renting in an HOA who parked her car on the driveway overnight. At 4am she heard a horrible noise and watched as her car was towed away. The HOA board president walked the neighborhood at night and had connections or ownership in a tow company. The fees for towing, storage, and fine exceeded the value of her car. She was taking a cab to work. She had no idea there were rules against parking a car on the driveway overnight.

    And another side of HOAs that haven’t been mentioned here is what happens when a person inherits an HOA property. I got a call from a 28 year old married woman with two children that inherited grandma’s condo in Florida. It was mortgage-free but shortly after she signed the paperwork for assuming the condo ownership she got hit with a $10K roof assessment. They wiped out their savings and paid it. Realizing each month they were paying condo fees, utilities, insurance, and taxes she decided to rent the unit. The CC&Rs required board approval. You guessed it, DENIED. Why? The COA was already at their maximum of 30% rentals. She decided to sell it. It did not sell. Her husband lost his job. She was desperate when she called me. Her paycheck was barely enough to cover their household expenses and they were struggling to buy groceries. She wanted to know what would happen if she just stopped paying the COA. Sadly, I had to tell her the COA would lien the property and foreclose…still charge her the back dues plus interest and legal fees and take the condo from her. In addition they can go to court and get a judgement and garnish her wages. This is why I tell everyone that talks about buying a condo to retire in to rent an apartment. Not only can your family lose the value of the condo (because the COA will make sure the legal bills and late fees wipe out the equity)they can also have their financial well-being destroyed just by inheriting the property. Bottom line: DO NOT DIE UNTIL YOU’VE SOLD YOUR HOA OR COA PROPERTY. Otherwise your heirs will not be mourning your departure, but they may be very angry with you for years to come.

    And then there is the one in Wichita, Kansas where the condo owner was beaten with a crowbar by the board president. That one settled out of court (after being in federal court and state court for years) but I am not at liberty to give the details yet. I will say the condo owner is expected to walk away victorious. Watch for that story on neighborsatwar dot com. You can see the photos of the man’s body by going to the search bar and typing in ‘Wichita’

    I’ve heard or read thousands of HOA nightmare stories. Each one makes me hate HOAs even more.

    I didn’t mention what my personal loss will be to sell my HOA property. $200K is the rough estimate on a place I paid $149K for. That money was invested so the loss is really much greater than that. After working all my life and being a good saver and investor I will now have to work until I take my last breath and will live in poverty until I do. I will not be able to travel or even live comfortably. I will have to watch every single penny and pray that I never need any sort specialized care. I cannot tell you how life-destroying HOAs are. In my 2nd lawsuit the mediator was a retired county court judge. He said, “Nila, you are dealing with a bunch of Nazis!!!” He was 100% correct.

    Keep exposing the truth about HOAs! Education is the key to helping people decide not to make the mistake of jumping into the HOA abyss.

  36. Hi Nila – I’m aware that even tenants are bound by the bylaws of an HOA neighborhood. This past winter we got hit by the parking/towing issue. We avoided getting caught by it because we were aware of it. But several neighbors had their cars towed at serious cost. Fortunately the neighbors banded together and nuked the parking regulation at the last HOA meeting, and it came to a merciful end. That kind of thing actually happens here in New Hampshire. People WILL shake the trees, so to speak.

    In Georgia people were largely compliant, which made the HOA situation worse than it needed to be. People here in New Hampshire aren’t afraid to make their concerns known. And it does make a difference! We need more of that spirit around the country. It’s not a perfect world up here, but people won’t put up with BS. That’s incredibly refreshing to see.

  37. The following is to the best of my recollection. I have to say that in order to try to protect myself.
    Some residents of our HOA couldn’t figure where all the dues money was going ($300,000.00 to $400,000.00 annually). A movement was started to recall a couple of the Board Members. The Board sent out a notice that they started a Nominating Committee, one Board member and one person they choose from the Residents. There were two open positions on the Board, and THEY nominated two people we could vote for and only vote for. I think they threw out any ballots with a write in listed on the ballot. The last two elections were that way. They can use out hundreds of thousands to defend themselves in court, we must pay our Attorney fees ourselves. I was told that our Attorney said that if they want to push things, the price tag could go to hundreds of thousands of dollars. They know that we can’t fight that. They have even counter sued, I think that is what it is called, two different residents using our money and those residents moved out of the neighborhood.

  38. Hi Chris – Your experience is consistent with what that attorney told me about HOAs. You can’t fight them legally, the deck is stacked completely in their favor. The only option is to move out, and never move back into an HOA neighborhood. That will “starve them out” if enough people do it. But that’s the problem, enough people won’t do it. Most people I know have a positive view of HOAs, and will continue to support them – until they get burned. Unfortunately, the burned don’t get together and share stories, so each situation is viewed as unusual, or as HOA-specific (i.e., “that HOA is corrupt”, when the truth is that the whole HOA system is corrupt).

    If you’ve been burned, consider yourself to be enlightened and don’t move back to an HOA neighborhood, at least not as an owner. But be warned that even as a tenant, the HOA is likely to see/treat you as more of a necessary evil than as a welcome guest. Tenants in an HOA neighborhood are seen as bad for property values, despite the fact they’re often the only solution for owners who can’t sell due to either market conditions or equity shortfalls.

  39. Moving into a neighborhood that doesn’t have an HOA is an extremely risky gamble. Having an HOA can mean the difference between profiting or losing several thousand dollars when selling. Anyone who has lived next door to white trash can tell you why an HOA is necessary. The people who are against HOA’s tend to be the troublemakers in the neighborhood who never mow, store piles of junk outside, and hangout in the front yard. The HOA is there to remind your neighbors that their property is not simply their own sovereign country where they can do whatever they want.

  40. Hi John – That’s the argument that I’ve always heard in favor of HOAs, higher property values and keeping out the riff raff – “white trash” as you call it. But you’re actually making my point, that HOAs are all about property values. If that’s the main reason to own a house then I think you’re better off buying a good mutual fund. A house isn’t purely an investment. It’s our own little space in the world – yes, even a sovereign country as you described it. We pay for it with our own money, and to have that ownership micro-managed by an HOA board seems to defeat the entire purpose of home-ownership.

    Also, as a Christian, I cannot support the “white trash” defense. This is to say that we should regard some people more favorably than others, almost always based on economic status. Money cannot be the measure of all things, at least not in the bigger picture. I hope you can appreciate this point.

  41. Totally agree w/EVERY SINGLE WORD on this article. Those HOA people are evil. We’re in the process of moving to PA & the moment I found out the house was listed in an HOA neighborhood, I made my fiancé back out of it. He was a little upset since he had so many plans for the house but I knew these people won’t let him execute them as we needed permission for almost everything. It still gets me so aggravated that someone that doesn’t pay your mortgage, your utility bill, yard/landscape maintenance & all of the bills that come w/home ownership has so much control over what you can & cannot do with YOUR house. It’s ridiculous. If there’s one of the many things we need to abolish these days, it’s the HOA!!

  42. Hi Mara – I think you’ve summed up the entire HOA issue brilliantly, and in far fewer words than it took me! We’re paying all the costs to own the house – plus extra fees to fund the HOA – so that they can have effective control over the property. I’m trying to imagine the World War II generation accepting that kind of arrangement. But we’re different generations, who have come up in a very different world. We readily surrender our freedom to overseers, and think that somehow we’re doing the right thing.

    I completely agree that the HOA will keep you and your fiance from doing what you please with the property. And if its a series of changes, it could end up getting legal in a hurry. That will cost you – and the other homeowners in the neighborhood – a lot of money, but it will cost the board members nothing. They can do what they want, and pass the cost onto the homeowners. It’s a perfect arrangement for all who would be king. You don’t hear it any more, but I loved the term “little Caesars” to describe the megalomaniacs of the world. If you end up being part of their “empires” they can make life quite miserable. And so many of them will smile and hide behind superficial pleasantries as they do.

  43. HOA has unlimited fund because the fund comes from homeowner due every month. So HOA would not worry about any law suit. If HOA engages in any lawsuit, HOA run out money HOA JUST RAISES ASSOCIATE FEE TO COVER ANY FEE COMING FROM LAWSUIT.

  44. Hi Ngoc – I agree. That’s what makes it so hard to fight them legally. You not only have to pay the legal fees on your end, but you get trapped into paying them for the HOA to fight against you. When you think of it that way, it’s really a very corrupt arrangement.

  45. Don’t buy in an HOA. We are currently selling our home of 14 years because of the HOA, but more specifically, because of the new President of the HOA. For 13 years, our small community did just fine letting everyone be. There was tons of rules in the CCR’s but none were followed and no one cared. Well, the new president that was elected a year ago, cared about 1 rule. Overnight parking in the cul-de-sac. We missed the meeting were she informed everyone that would now be enforced. No email was sent about the change, so we were quite surprised when all of the sudden, we were being threatened with fines if we didn’t stop letting our daughter park in the cul-se-sac overnight. Also, we were the only ones with a teen driver and we also have the smallest driveway, and the only one that is shared. Therefore, we were the only ones breaking this newly enforced rule. The new President said the board didn’t want to enforce any other rules and not only would they not, they were going to ask the 14 owners which ones they wanted eliminated in the CCR’s and the board would remove them. Well, we were the only ones that wanted to overnight parking eliminated, so it stayed.

    We fought the rule for quite some time, but in the end, we gave up and started shuffling cars around, just so we could have peace. Well, that didn’t matter. The President now had a vendetta against us and she still sent threatening emails about breaking the rule, but we weren’t! She wouldn’t send proof either. We then tried to get the board to enforce other rules and they refused that also.

    We hired a lawyer and basically, the lawyer said they can enforce what they want and yes, we can fight them and show they didn’t run the HOA correctly etc… but that would cost up to $20,000 and could take years to fight.

    When we fought back, things got worse. The President got others in the neighborhood to be mad at us for not following the rules. She would send emails saying for everyone to watch our cars and turn us in. We would send emails fighting back and no one wanted to side with us and suffer the wrath of the President.

    The only possible saving grace is the President got so obsessed with making sure we aren’t parking in the street, that she’s been stalking us and she’s been aggressive about it. We contacted the VP on the board about it and she got in trouble and apologized to us in an email, but she continued. We are pressing charges for stalking/harassment on Monday.

    We are listing our home tomorrow. We’ve filled out our sellers disclosure, we have pictures scheduled, and we’ve found a new home. There’s no HOA!!!!! YES!!!!!!!! We don’t have to sell our current home to buy the other one, so we are gone as soon as we close on the new one. We can’t wait!

  46. Hi MT – That’s a real mess! But it proves how inflexible HOAs can be, how it’s impossible to fight back, and especially how they’re like going back to high school. It’s obviously a popularity contest, and everyone is afraid to oppose the the president, who plays the role of prom queen as a high school equivalent. They all want to be on her good side. It also appears that your family has been targeted. It may be for no other reason than that everyone needs a devil to rally against, and you’ve been selected to fill that role. Or it could be personal.

    I agree with your decision to move. You’re in their cross hairs, and it is unlikely to get better. The sad part is that after you’re gone the prom queen might decide to target another resident to rally her “court” against. Power never feels good unless it’s being directed against someone.

  47. I know this tread is old, but I’m posting anyway:) The above are scary stories but I would like to share the “other side”. I live in a typical middle class neighborhood and we do not have a hoa. Well, we don’t have an active hoa, there was one once upon a time but it no longer collects dues and does not enforce restrictions. I have only lived in this neighborhood for 2 years, but I’m very disappointed with the condition of our neighborhood. Neighbors have old fencing that needs to be repaired or replaced, rusty sheds in the backyard, weeds growing out of control, neighbors constantly parking on the street in front of my house, since parking in front of there house is taken up with the 6 cars they have (all homes have two car garages). I’ve lived in both a HOA and a non-HOA and given that I paid a handsome price for my home as did the neighbors, I’m a bit taken back that there isn’t more pride in ownership. I’m not asking that people live up to what I think is acceptable but I don’t understand why the homeowners don’t take the initiative to clean up the neighborhood. Oh yes, did I mention that I live beside chickens? The chickens drive my dog crazy and then I get yelled at by the chicken owner to shut my dog up, so I can’t go outside and enjoy my yard. My dog is a natural hunting dog (yes, I’ve even discussed this with my vet and he said there isn’t much I can do about the barking since my dog is a “hunting breed”). Did I know there were chickens next door when I bought – no, of course not! The seller disclosed that there was a hoa (rightfully so since technically there is one) and there was a two dog restriction. Looking around before purchasing, it didn’t look like that there was too many restrictions that I couldn’t live with. But in the short 2 years living there, the upkeep of the neighborhood appears to becoming progressively worse and frankly, I don’t want to reside beside chickens (no offense to chicken owners-I’m a city girl and don’t understand why anyone would want chickens in a neighborhood). And, yes I know I can enforce the rules i.e. deed restrictions, but I don’t want to be a bad neighbor. So with my experience, my next home purchase, I will seek refuge in a hoa. Not the Nazi hoa’s but a mild mannered hoa. I honestly believe that it will fit my personality better.

  48. Hi Dana – You may be the kind of person who does best in an HOA. Maybe. But if they take aim at you for any reason, you’ll see the darker side. Believe me, this comment thread isn’t filled with a bunch of complainers, the HOA horror stories are real. I think you just have a bad neighbor, but you should know that sometimes HOAs protect bad neighbors, particularly the ones who are either on the board, or those who like to complain. (HOA boards and resident complainers are quite natural allies!)

    In our last house (no HOA) we lived next door to people who seemed to be doing a superior rendition of the Beverly Hillbillies. But I’d rather have that kind of neighbor than a elitist, dictatorial HOA board trying to rule my life. I’d also like to add that there are a lot of people who can barely afford to keep their houses, and that may explain why some of the properties are in poor condition. I prefer to be understanding of that, rather than to judge it harshly. I’d ask you to consider that as well.

    That said, if the relationship with your neighbors is hostile, and you don’t like the way people keep their houses, you’re probably going to have to move. It’s just not a neighborhood that agrees with your tastes, and it’s highly unlikely to change.

  49. Dana, you said “And, yes I know I can enforce the rules i.e. deed restrictions, but I don’t want to be a bad neighbor.”

    Well, what do you think happens when there’s an HOA?

    Your collective assessments are used to notify your neighbor of their violations of the deed restrictions and to sue that neighbor if they fail to comply. Does that sound like a good neighbor?

    Why is it that you would be willing to allow someone else from the HOA to do your dirty work? Why don’t you personally attempt to address this with your neighbor? Why don’t you talk to a few of your other neighbors who might also be willing to approach your neighbor to work out a compromise?

    Believe me, that’s usually better than giving a group of your neighbors control of the purse strings for your assessment fund and unchecked control over how to enforce the restrictive covenants.

    An HOA can be “mild mannered” one day, and pure hell the next. It depends who is in control and how well they handle power – not to mention YOUR money.

    If most of your neighbors don’t seem to care, no amount of coercion by lawsuit is going to improve the situation to your liking. The very same problems can and do occur in HOAs, despite all the restrictions.

    Neighborhood pride comes naturally when people genuinely respect one another. But homeowners also need to have the financial means, the good health, and the time to do the necessary work. We don’t know the other person’s story, but if we did, it might change our perspective. Instead, we too often conclude that our neighbor is selfish and inconsiderate.

    A real community would gather together those who are able and organize a neighborhood clean up, instead of fining and threatening their neighbors with lawsuits.

  50. Deborah, of course I made an attempt to apologize for my dogs barking and at that time I didn’t know about the chickens-the neighborly route and to introduce ourselves. I thought they were going to hit me-they were extremely rude and very confrontational so no I can’t talk to them. I tried and failed miserably. As said I have lived in a hoa and had zero problems. Maybe I was lucky- don’t know for sure. I have talked to other neighbors and we get along and apparently my neighbors are the neighborhood problem. In a hoa these problems would be addressed – no? Perhaps neighborhoods aren’t what I grew up in. Everyone would rather hibernate in their homes and don’t socialize. It’s fine-i respect that. Yes respect is key-wouldn’t people respect the fact that they don’t want to look out their window and see a hemi parked in front of their house? Or see grass grow around a car parked in their yard. Do I want to knock on their door with other neighbors to address that. Heck no, I don’t like confrontations and avoid them. So I just ignore the issues and will move when it’s economically feasible. Am I sold on hoas-no but what are the alternative for someone like me who would rather shy away from unpleasant situations? I love people and can’t wrap my mind around why people get so rude. Maybe I got it wrong but I would think a hoa would run interference. I enjoy your input as I have studied hoas a lot. Listen to on the commons, read Lucas wards book and followed both you one NIla’s blogs so frankly I am torn between a hoa and a non hoa. I do think perhaps hoas do have some positives.

  51. Hi Deborah – Thank you for providing an incredibly charitable view of the big picture. We all need to be reminded of the points that you’ve raised. I’m old enough that I remember when neighborhoods (and towns) were genuine communities. They weren’t perfect, but people knew their neighbors, knew that some were struggling, and often did make themselves available to help.

    Today’s world is very different. Today, people move into gated communities, wall themselves inside their homes behind electronic security systems, fill the house with electronic entertainment, and very willingly buy into the media myth that, yes Veronica, your neighbor might be a terrorist, a mass murderer, a drug dealer or a rapist – trust no one. And here we are, living in a society of paranoid people who don’t trust the people living 50 feet away. I can’t and won’t live my life that way.

    I’ve found that when you reach out to people, and get to know them a bit, they really are pretty good. Even the ones you have conflicts with. Life is better that way. They aren’t perfect, but then neither am I. And yes, if I have a problem with a neighbor I discuss it with that person. I’ve done this many times because I don’t like living in conflict. Hiding behind an HOA is pure cowardice and only serves to pull people farther apart. People who think they need an HOA to somehow protect them or their interests are often part of the problem, not the solution. But then, I live by the motto, trust people, not systems.

  52. Hi Dana – You have a neighbor problem. Take it from me, you can have a neighbor problem in an HOA too. The HOA can make things worse. It’s all about who complains first and loudest, and has the better political connections. Assuming your neighbors are the ones with both six cars and the chickens, they’re too settled in to ever move, so it will be up to you to make the move. Unfortunate, but that’s a life issue that an HOA won’t necessarily protect you from.

    Three things that could make YOU the problem in an HOA: 1) kids, 2) dogs/pets, 3) cars and 4) someone doesn’t like you. OK, that’s four, but an HOA or a bad neighbor can make your life miserable for any of these, and a bunch more.

  53. Kevin you are very correct I do have a neighbor problem. I am quite sure though if I did move it would be virtually impossible to buy somewhere where there isn’t a hoa. I have gotten letters from the hoa that I previously I lived but I complied and all was good. Once again I am torn between the hoa thing. Some things I think I would enjoy and other things would make me want to pull my hair out. What I would rather have is 5 acres and no neighbors in sight. Yay!

  54. I just found out that a very close friend of mine that lives in a hoa got served that the hoa is foreclosing on his house for unpaid hoa fees of 578.00. Can they do that? He said that he has never received a bill and didn’t have clue sat to where to send his dues. To make matters worse to stop the foreclosure he now ones over 2000.00. Since I have read up on hoas I know that hoas can foreclose but now that it is close to home I am a bit more understanding as to why hoas get a bad name. I believe he is entering into a repayment agreement to stop the foreclosure so I think it will work out for him. Again I am just curious-is a master planned development okay? I think that would be a little less intrusive and maybe something more in line with what I may be looking for..

  55. Hi Dana – Unfortunately, the HOA CAN do exactly what they’re doing to your friend. That’s precisely what makes them so dangerous. On the master planned development, if there’s an HOA in the mix, they’re no safer than any other HOA neighborhood. It’s not the neighborhood configuration that’s the problem, but the HOA itself.

  56. Ok I am convinced. I am selling my house and plan to rent. There is no good reason not to rent at this point. Homes that are not in hoas are old and need too much work and all the newer homes are cookie cutter with extreme hoas. If I have to live with silly rules I would rather rent an apartment. So I am unloading the house and renting a one bedroom apartment. Homeownership is causing me too mush stress. And I now am very concerned about hoas after doing some extensive research. Renting seems like the better way – why aren’t more people renting at this point? It seems like a better option.

  57. Usually people only put bad experience with HOA online so it may seem twitsted that all HOA are bad. But truth is, most people who live in good HOA wont even bother to post. For me, I live in a HOA neighborhood, 200$ annual assessment, plenty of common area, pond, playground and tennis court. And some free picnic and parties. I never heard anyone got notice of violation even though some of them need to get their lawn taken care of. Its a quiet and clean neighborhood and everybody look after each other and im very happy to live in this HOA community.

  58. Hi HJ – You haven’t been targeted by your HOA so you don’t realize how bad they can get. And maybe you even live in a very laid-back HOA. But when you come into their cross hairs, you learn quickly that they aren’t benign. I’ve heard too many bad stories – and have a few of my own – to believe that they’re harmless. In fact, if you dig into both the HOA bylaws and into state laws about HOAs, it’s downright scary. They can do just about anything, and your legal remedies are pretty limited. Sometimes they’re non-existent.

  59. Hello Kevin, I have a question I’m hoping you can help me with. I moved into a subdivision in November of 2015 and just this November of 2016 received a bill from my HOA. I was unaware that I was moving into a community with a HOA and saw nothing about this at closing and was even told by my realtor that there wasn’t one. I’m now being charged late fees for not paying something that I was completely unaware of. How is it possible that I was not informed at closing about the HOA and how am I receiving a bill a whole year after moving in?

  60. Hi Delonda – Wow, that is strange. Usually the existence of an HOA is required to be disclosed by law, but it depends on the laws in your state. When we bought in an HOA neighborhood it was voluntary, but became mandatory shortly after we moved in. But it was still disclosed by the agent and the closing attorney. It’s possible that a written disclosure was buried in the enormous stack of closing documents that they put in front of you to sign.

    I don’t know if there’s much you can do about this. When you purchase a house in an HOA it’s presumed that you agreed to it. I’d suggest consulting with an attorney about this and seeing what your options are, if any.

    One other possibility is that the late fee is from the previous owner, so you may be able to get out of it that way. But you will still have to deal with the HOA going forward.

  61. Delonda, the first thing you need to do is find out if the HOA is valid and mandatory. Go to your County Courthouse and inquire if there are any valid Declarations (CC&Rs) on file. If not, the HOA is not official.

    Do you have title insurance on the property? Contact the title agent about this situation, as well as the real estate agency that handled the sale for your side of the transaction. The existence of an HOA, if there is one, should have come up on the title search.

    You can check your state laws to see what was required in terms of real estate disclosure. It varies by state. Your local board of realtors should be aware of all required sales disclosures, and all of the member real estate agents must abide by those legal requirements.

    Once you have some basic information, I agree with Kevin, consult a real estate attorney.

    As for past due assessments, you need to find out (only if the HOA is legally valid) if those are assessment you should have been paying since you closed on the purchase OR if these are past due from the previous owner. Many states obligate the buyer to pay all HOA liens, but that is normally disclosed and paid as a condition of the sale.

  62. Thanks Deborah. I was searching for your website and couldn’t find it. If anyone has a question on HOAs please go to independentamericancommunities.com.

  63. I live in HOA is Missouri they way I read the Missouri non for profit It is my choice to belong also can quit anytime but pay back dues. Am I reading the law correct. also when I applied for a G I loan it states on there no homeassociation

  64. Hi John – I’m not familiar with HOA laws in Missouri, but I tend to doubt that what you’re describing applies to every HOA in the state. You’re probably in a voluntary HOA, but you should check your closing documents from when you bought the house to see what they show.

  65. I was appointed to the board of my association 2 years ago after the previously elected board member stirred up a mess and promptly stepped down. Upon being appointed, I was horrified by the amount of discretion the board of directors has in associations. We can legally take out loans in the association’s name, there is an enormous amount of leeway on the amount of capital assessments we can potentially impart, and there is a tremendous amount of power given to a select few. I had no idea there was such potential for abuse. Dealing with association business has been an absolute nightmare. Part of our specific problem is that the developer entered into an easement agreement with his buddy who owned a local cable/internet company, which restricted our services to a bulk agreement paid through our association dues. When this local company went bankrupt, the very first board chose to ignore it, thinking the agreement would just go away, but *surprise* (eye roll) it was sold to another company, and then another, and each time, the service has degraded and degraded. A large part of my nearly 3 years on this board has been spent in discussions with attorneys regarding how to get our community out of this monopoly, so that not only can we have access to competition in providers, but also so that each individual homeowner can choose whether or not to buy services, and if so, what type they wish to have. And that’s not even the biggest annoyance, believe it or not. The major problem is the elderly population who resides in the townhome section, and who are bound by our (master) association, as well as a second “sub” association specific to the townhomes. If these people had their way, no one would be able to own more than 2 cars, the community would pay for a parking lot so that no cars were ever parked on the street, everyone’s grass would be no more than 2 inches tall, we’d all have the exact same color homes/shutters and identical landscaping. They seemingly have nothing better to do with their time then to complain about silly things. Their complaints about their neighbors (never to their faces, mind you, always to the board or the community manager) have ranged from dogs barking to being able to see someone’s boat from the street (and the complainant does not live anywhere near said boat– and in fact, has to drive to a remote dead end road in order to even attempt to get a view of this boat). It’s like dealing with children tattle tailing on one another. Our city has a requirement that all new communities be “planned communities” with associations (it relieves the city’s duties to deal with frivolous complaints, and puts them on the association directly), so in order to build a new home here, we had to enter into an association neighborhood. I’ve never in my life known adults to be so petty in my entire life. My term ends in January and I feel sorry for whomever takes my place, because the whining never ends, and neither, so it seems, will the legal business with the easement and media agreements entered into by the developer. I agree with everything you’ve said here. It’s a nightmare, and I’ve seen it from the inside.

  66. Hi Jessica – A heartfelt thanks to you for weighing in as an HOA “insider”. Most of us have seen these issues from the outside, but your report confirms the validity of what we’ve been seeing. I agree with all that you’ve reported, and have nothing to add. But I will make a couple of observations about the elderly complaints.

    First, I’ve seen that kind of pettiness from a much younger crowd, and remain convinced that HOAs are breeding grounds for whiners and complainers. The existence of the board gives them someone to complain to with impunity. They turn into children, wanting to tattle on every ill, real or imagined. We might suppose that HOAs give power to the weak, and they use it like a club.

    Second, I am aware that many of the elderly do make a hobby of complaining. My mom is a recently appointed tenant representative in the senior complex where she lives. She recently told me that she’s barraged with complaints about EVERYTHING at every meeting. When she asks for volunteers to work on projects, no one steps up. She lives in an extremely nice complex, so many of the complaints are baseless.

    I think there may be a couple of factors at play here. One is that some of the elderly are miserable at being elderly. A lot have nagging ailments. Also, there isn’t as much opportunity to make major changes in their own lives, so they behave in a hostile manner in general. I don’t want to paint this with too broad a brush, because I’ve seen many of the elderly who I’ve considered to be true inspirations. But there are the other kind, and they can be relentless. I also think that some of the elderly are fearful of becoming irrelevant. In truth we all have that fear, but when you reach a certain age it becomes more real. A lot of the elderly have lost loved ones, relocated from familiar neighborhoods, or become estranged from their children. Complaining is a way to get “noticed”. It’s negative attention, but it’s attention nonetheless.

    A psychologist once told me that some people will attack you because they can’t get at the people who actually hurt them. I think that explains a lot of human behavior, even apart from age. On one hand we need to be sympathetic to the elderly – even the cranky ones – but at the same time we have to do our best to not become like the worst examples. After all, we’ll all be there one day!

  67. Oh, you’re totally right. I didn’t mean to imply that all elderly people complain. My direct neighbor is the sweetest elderly woman, and she doesn’t ever complain about anything, and is a wonderful person to know and love, and we have many older neighbors who mind their own business and are happy to go about their day to day lives even if there is a car parked on the street in front of their house (true story, people call me about that regularly). My octogenarian grandma is one of my best friends, and another is a former colleague that is older than my parents. One of my favorite fellow board members is a senior, and he’s so pragmatic and thoughtful to work with. I feel extra sorry for him b/c the “in crowd” of complainers tends to get angrier with him because he won’t side with them when they want to harass people for existing. I have tried to look at it sort of along the lines of the fear of irrelevance, as you made reference to. As a mother myself, I look at my children and their friends and I still see them as little boys, even as they have grown into young men. It’s still somewhat odd to consider that their insight weighs equally to my own. Along those lines, I honestly think that for the group of chronic complainers, they look at me and the bulk of the other board members and, rather than see their peers, they see people the same age as their children (or even in one instance, not much older than their grandchildren), and it’s hard for them to believe that we can perhaps be good advocates without trying to be controlling. I understand that there’s a lot going in to it, and I do appreciate your response! I’m sorry if I let on as if I dislike the elderly, or blame them entirely. Definitely not the case 🙂

  68. Hi Jessica – I didn’t mean to imply that you were being insensitive to the elderly in any way. In fact, I was mostly agreeing with you, but trying to look at the bigger picture as to why it might be true. (I expect to get a negative email or two about my own comments about the elderly!)

  69. I despise the idea of HOA’s. I hear these horror stories all the time. Now we’re looking to move to the next level of home in a suburb of Kansas City and I’m finding it next to impossible to find a home that isn’t in a HOA. And every one that comes on the market it is sold or in the “show for backups” stage within a day. It’s frustrating!

    I don’t want some busy-body measuring my lawn or telling me my curtains are the wrong color or that I can only open my garage door to pull a car out and then I have to immediately close it. We have 3 large dogs and a toddler and I have the feeling that they will be an issue for one of the busy-bodies in these horrible types of neighborhoods.

    I feel that after spending a huge amount of money on a house, if I want to plant skunk cabbage and paint my house purple and put slides going from the top floor to the ground I should be able to. (I wouldn’t do that, but it’s the principle of the thing.)

  70. Hi Jessica – You’re absolutely right. Owning a house should be a liberating experience in most respects, otherwise you may as well rent. HOAs compromise home ownership. You own, but you don’t – if that even makes sense. A lot of HOAs can restrict where you park your car, what color you paint your house, what plants you can put on your property, how high your grass can grow and even if you want to build a tree fort for your kids. And that’s the milder stuff. Give people a little bit of power and they’ll inevitably abuse it.

    If the Kansas City market is dominated by HOAs, it will be really tough to find a good non-HOA property. Atlanta is certainly like that – all the new neighborhoods are HOAs, as well as most of those built in the past 20-30 years. New Hampshire is a lot different. They’re pretty rare up here, thank the Good Lord! (Which is yet another reason we moved up here!) You may have to consider going further out of town, or closer in. HOAs are more prevalent in middle suburban and close-in exurban areas than they are in in-town and rural locations.

    It’s weird – turn on the TV and the internet and we live in a world of infinite possibilities. But when you start trying to maneuver through the real world, you find that the options are sparse, and the trade-offs are steep. That’s a consequence of the groupthink that’s behind HOAs, and a lot of other conundrums that we face. The mindset is “if you don’t like HOAs then there’s something wrong with YOU.” I guess there’s something wrong with me then…

  71. I find the HOA mindset weird as well. It does work for some people. I’ve known people that love HOA’s because they keep their house vanilla and boring anyways. (Only choose shades of beige or grey for a house, will only build decorative fences, keep their lawns pristine, never have a stray dandelion or leaf anywhere on their property.) It’s great for those types. I like the freedom though of being able to let the grass grow a little long if I’ve had a busy work week or the freedom to put up a shed or a playset or a new fence without getting a permission slip signed.

    One of our biggest challenges when finding a place to live are the breed bans most of the suburbs have around here. We’re in one of three suburbs that allow pitbulls. We have a little rescue bully that I wouldn’t give up for the world. We also have really excellent school districts here, and a children’s hospital nearby. (My son has Cystic Fibrosis, so it’s a bit of a necessity.) I told my husband if we have to buy in a HOA, it’s going to be an extremely relaxed one. There’s always the gamble though that a group of busybodies will become board members and change everything. We also have to make sure our dogs will be allowed in whatever HOA we would purchase in. I’m just venting now. lol.

    Anyways, thank you for writing this. I’m glad to know that there are people out there that hate the HOA mindset as much as I do.

  72. Hi Jessica – Your going to have to choose your son’s best interests over your distrust of HOAs. You may get into a tolerant HOA, and things will be OK. If not, you stay for a few years then move. I agree with you about the HOA mindset. Some people are perfectly OK being controlled, because they like knowing that their neighbors are also controlled. Others get high on being in control, as I wrote in the article. It’s not a mix we may prefer, but you do have other priorities that are incredibly important. You might try to get on the board so as to minimize the impact of the HOA on your life. You might influence some rule changes, and make enough political connections that you can exist just above the typical disturbances, particularly in regard to the dogs. Let me know what you decide to do, your story is an interesting one.

  73. I’m not sure how old this article is but I need advice bc I’m contemplating moving into a hoa community for the social aspect.
    Long story short, I’m from the Midwest, came to NY for a short term job but was going back to the Midwest once it ended. I was inheriting a house there. In the meantime, the job lasted longer and the house had to be sold for nursing home cost. The job I have is a live in caregiver so I don’t know anyone here. It’s been terrible.
    The hoa is in Pennsylvania and the fee and property taxes would be less than the property taxes alone in NY. I could buy a non hoa home in Pennsylvania and not have the 2k hoa fee but it’s in BFE and I would still know no one. I’m not as financially secure as I’d like to be and I do the math of 2k times X years adding up and logic says that I could use the money for retirement. However, I have literally been isolated from the world for 4 years and it’s taking a toll. So how do you know what to do? I have to get a house either way because rent is too much and I don’t want to go through my savings and have nothing.
    I’m early 40s, swf, earn about 40k, 50k student loan debt, no cc or car debt, 60k saved, 75k retirement. The homes in the area are 80-100k, property taxes 1500-2000, hoa 2254 with an equal transfer fee at purchase.
    Please advise because I have no idea what to do.

  74. Do not count on an HOA for social connections. In fact, conflict is common in HOAs because rarely do all owners agree on financial priorities, and they share liability for all of those shared spaces and amenities. PA is now considering legislation to get Attorney General to handle complaints about HOAs from homeowners. Industry lobbyists are fighting this, because they do not want HOA boards, developers, and managers to be held accountable. I know many owners who regret purchasing their HOA properties, and some who have lost a great deal of money, too. Consider buying a small older home and joining a social or civic club for socializing. Dues are negligible and not tied to the deed of your personal home.

  75. Hi Hannah – I must admit that I’m a bit confused about some of the details in your post. I’d need to know the following before attempting to untangle your situation:

    1) You’re living in NY and moving to PA? Of course you won’t know anyone with that kind of move. You might rent for a year so you can learn the lay of the land.
    2) Is the HOA house also in BFE (Bum F%$# Egypt, I presume, meaning the middle of nowhere)? Why must you move there?
    3) Your financial situation is in much better shape than you think, why do you think you’re in a compromised position?
    4) If you’re a live-in caregiver, why do you even need a house – or will you be doing different work when you move??? (Also, be aware that if your plan is to care for people in your home, that WILL be a problem in an HOA!)
    5) In your situation, as a single woman, presumably with no kids or pets, an HOA may not be a bad arrangement. Where you run into problems with an HOA is when you have kids, pets, more than one car or a home-based business. Someone gets ticked off at you over one of those facets of your life and sics the HOA on you.
    6) Only you can determine if you can afford the HOA fee, so I can’t offer any advice on this.
    7) Are you sure the social situation in the HOA is actually better than a non-HOA house? I lived in an HOA that was mostly families, and the single people were kind of invisible.
    8) Are there other ways you could make some lasting social connections, like joining a church, a charity, a gym, or taking some art/fitness/hobby classes?

    Sorry to ask so many questions, but I didn’t follow what you had written.

  76. Well put Deborah! As I said in my response, single people aren’t always a good fit in HOAs. But you’ve reminded me that they can also be hostile environments. If the board is too restrictive, or if the neighborhood is filled with overly-competitive people, it can really be a toxic living arrangement. I’m of the opinion that you can meet people and make friends anywhere you’re at. But you do have to spread your wings to do it. A big part of Hannah’s social problem, I’m sure, is that as a live-in caregiver, you become as shut-in as the person you’re caring for. That will be the case no matter what else is happening in her life, or where she lives.

  77. I’m in Orange County NY. Pennsylvania is nearby (Pike/Wayne County). A lot of NY/NJ people move there bc taxes are so high. The lady I care for isn’t going to live much longer and if I don’t get a house soon then I’m going to be sol as far as financing and getting enough time on a new job. I don’t want to rent bc the rental options are too expensive and I can’t waste 15k on a crappy place. Not to mention that a lot of places use oil heat and it’s expensive.
    It’s not that I’m going to try to make everyone my bff but they have a lot of things I would like to do and I could meet people I like because of it. Also, the fact that it’s right there and not 10 miles away is a big deal to me. I’ve always lived in the Chicago suburbs and had everything nearby. Around here is miles to everything and there’s no community. It’s worse in Pennsylvania but that’s all I can reasonably afford in ALL scenarios (i.e. If my life goes in the toilet, I can still work at the five and dime and pay my bills) and I accept that.
    Hopefully, I answered your questions. Hemlock Farms is where I want to go. The homes I’m looking into are under 100k, good bones but need some cosmetic updates. My piti would be $600 or under, plus about $200 average hoa (paid yearly). I think it’s a good idea for me now but I’m not sure if it’s a good long term idea. I guess I could always sell/rent it out in 10 years if I couldn’t afford it. It’s such a hard decision bc the only person I had was my grandmother (the house I was getting) and she passed away a few months ago. I’m just feeling panicked and I’m not sure if it’s usual home buying stress or “you’re making a bad decision” thing.
    Thanks for your time.

  78. Thanks Hannah, that does clear up a few things. But is the HOA $200 per month or $200 per year? If it’s per month, then that’s too high for that price range. If it’s per year, it’s so low that the HOA board is probably very weak. I think you’re mostly worried about making a mistake, which is absolutely natural. But my thought is that you should try renting a house in that subdivision for a year to take a test run. If it works for you, then buy. If not, you can move on.

    I’m guessing that if the prices are under 100k, then a rent option would be available. I am a bit concerned that you say the houses need cosmetic updates. Usually, HOAs prevent that from happening. If that’s not happening, and with prices under 100k, I’d seriously consider renting. It won’t be a mistake if it turns out that it isn’t the right neighborhood for you. I also want to point out that not all suburbanites can “go rural”. That may be at the root of your problem – you may not mesh well with rural people and environments. If that’s the case, you may not be happy in the HOA no matter what – and that’s exactly what you need to find out before you buy in for the long haul.

  79. It’s 2254 a year. They have houses up to a million dollars. It’s the best community there. It’s in the pocanos. The reason why you can get a starter home so low is that a lot of them were bought as vacation homes and when the market crashed the value plummeted. It’s slowly creeping up but it still won’t be close to what it was. The homes I’m looking at were purchased for 185-250k and aren’t foreclosed. People are just trying to get out of the situation. It’s about 60/40 full time vs seasonal. The cosmetics means inside, appliances, flooring, some of them are too cabin-y inside for everyday life. I wouldn’t pay any less than that for a private home except the hoa. They have a very strong hoa. It’s a lot of former successful NYC people. You can see it, hemlock farms. It’s the best. There’s a few others that are a bit cheaper dues wise but they don’t allow fences and I have a dog.
    I think it’s the best thing for me for now. Once I have some friends and roots, I can see about moving to a private home. It’d be different if I was in Indiana where I know people.
    Thanks for your words. I am going to go for it. I think it’s worth the cost to get back into the world. I’m not worried about the rules stuff because I’m low key anyway. You really helped me and even though I’m doing something else, I was able to think of good reasons to your thoughts. Thanks xo

  80. I have to buy otherwise I’m going to be screwed. I put a lot of money into my grandma’s house and I helped her instead of saving. If I don’t secure a roof over my head now, I’m going to be in trouble when I’m older. I’m not worried about rural vs city. I’m more realistic about the situation and I can make it anywhere but I need humans around. I also want to be around quality people because I actually have 2 degrees from Notre Dame but got off track career wise helping my grandma. Maybe something will find me that uses my brain more. I used to live in a small cute town and I learned that you can get more chances by being around the right people who can see your personality. I’m pretty likable, lol. This was only supposed to be a year job but it’s been 4.5 and I’m getting dumber and less social by the day.

  81. Dear Hannah,
    I hope my experience will help your with your decision making.

    I’ll start by saying the best advice this Midwest woman from Kansas is going to give you about buying into any HOA is to run like your hair is on fire!

    In 2005, I was financially set for life. I bought a townhome because I wanted to be free to travel and work seasonal positions out of state without the worry of mowing grass, cleaning gutters, and taking care of the exterior of my home. I thought that is what I was buying into. In truth, I signed myself into a hellish nightmare that has robbed me of my life’s savings, retirement savings, health, and happiness. Why? Because HOA board members are uneducated, unskilled, and often times thieves. After learning my HOA has $10M unaccounted for in dues and the same guy had been president of the board for over 20 years, I filed the first lawsuit to see records. The president suddenly died and the predecessor told the court they had no records. Big lie! Next, the siding on all the housing was rotting to the point mine was so severe the electric meters fell off in a torrential rain and water poured through the holes and destroyed my entire finished basement. That resulted in lawsuit number 2 for breach of contract. Next they let the driveway on my unit drop below the garage floor and again when it rained water poured under the flooring and destroyed my finished basement on that side. They also let the fence rot to the point I could never put a dog or child in the backyard. We are now in lawsuit number 3. There are far more details but I will spare you those. Bottom line is: I’ve spent more money and energy on this supposed maintenance-provided townhome than all the other houses I’ve owned together that were not in an HOA. This is the first and will be the last HOA I ever live in.

    I’ve found neighbors will not stand up against these board bullies and they allow themselves to be brainwashed (think religious cult type brainwashing) by the board into believing the problem is the homeowner that stands up for themselves, not the failed and lack of leadership and decision making of the board of directors. So, it’s basically a war zone where I live and I wouldn’t socialize with any of my neighbors for the very reason today they are your friend and tomorrow they get on the HOA board and try to destroy you with a lawsuit and foreclose and take your home. That has been my experience.

    In addition, due to the repairs, lawsuits, and loss of value on my home for me to move I will lose over $250K now. That is cash money because I paid cash for the home and have paid for all the other with my savings. The stress of 12 years of this hellhole has caused me to lose all the pigment in my skin due to Vitiligo and some other stress-related health issues have presented themselves. At 62 years old, I should be out enjoying life and the great job I did of saving for retirement. I’m not. I’m working and paying legal bills. I cannot be out in the sun and vacationing are cost prohibitive.

    I have given you the short version of what I have been through but I hope it’s been enough for you to realize buying into an HOA comes with massive risks and can be life and health destroying. In addition, when you sign on the dotted line of ownership into an HOA you sign away your Constitutional Rights. You become business partners with all of your neighbors in a non-profit corporation. And you become the guarantor for payment on all debts, loans, lawsuits, liabilities, settlements, construction defects, and disaster rebuilds for the entire HOA. The risks are massive and there is not getting out of them if the board members make stupid decisions, steal the money, or engage in lawsuits against you or your neighbors.

    Rent an apartment and enjoy life if you do not want to own a home without an HOA. Volunteer, take a class, or find some other means of meeting friends but buying into an HOA is not the answer.

  82. I get a kick from all of you who complain about living in an HOA community. Didn’t you read the by-laws before settlement? I lived in two HOA communities, a condo HOA and presently a townhouse HOA. It’s not right for everyone. I love how our homes all looks as nice or nicer than they did 20 years ago. If you look at other non-HOA communities of the same age, people have probably changed the colors and original designs over the years…not always for the best. I don’t recommend them for growing families but it works well for our retired lifestyle. The biggest problem is finding volunteers to serve on the Board or committees. Read the rules before you buy. If you don’t like them, go elsewhere. Otherwise, don’t complain.

  83. Hi Guy – I completely agree with you about people not reading the bylaws and covenants. I saw that all the time in the mortgage business. People ignored them and assumed all was well. They never stopped to consider that certain restrictions might interfere with exactly what they plan to do with the house. But there are cases, such as with my wife and I, where a non-mandatory HOA became mandatory after we moved in and we were stuck. But I do agree that most people a) don’t know what they’re getting into and b) don’t bother to investigate. But then I also saw a fair number of people opt to NOT get a home inspection, or to ignore it’s contents when they did.

    Over the years I came to the conclusion that buying a house is mostly an emotional endeavor. Like sharks, once people “lock on” to the idea of buying a house, or a certain house, facts and potential limitations go out the window. They just want the house – period!

  84. Guy is right. They work great for retired douchebags who accomplished little in their lives, and want to try to gain some imaginary power over us young “whippersnappers” who dare to be financially and educationally superior to them by 35. It all works well for them until someone like me gets elected; then they get to sit down and be quiet, while the rational among us call the shots until they die, or go into a retirement village. The sooner the better. (SOON)

  85. Hi Jessica – In my experience the HOA boards are usually occupied by young bucks, people in their 30s and 40s who are climbing the career ladder and also looking for a side venture as Masters of the Neighborhood. Control freaks know no age limits. It might be different in senior citizen neighborhoods, but I’ve never lived in one of those.

  86. Wow…what’s with Jessica? So smart that she generalizes everyone older than her as a “douchebags” (a real sign of maturity) but hasn’t gotten her act together enough to be able to retire herself. She must have been one of those stupid asses that didn’t read the rules before settlement. Either that or she’s just a lonely troll begging for attention at meaningless blog sites like this. So sad. It’s like a club, Jessie…if you don’t like the rules, don’t join.

  87. Actually, no guy. I’m just the little woman who knows the law and the covenants, and who stepped in and saved my community from a bunch of whiny old men who thought covenants meant a lot more power and control than what they actually entail (and likely who are just like your cranky, obnoxious self). And my board follows the rules AND the law; we simply don’t allow overreaching by old timers who can’t let go of the reigns for the competent among us to handle necessary community business while simultaneously not harassing our neighbors.

    Go sit all the way down.

    Happy to take this conversation off line with you, see what kind of a tough old “guy” you really are. ANY time.

  88. Jessica and Guy – I like a lively debate as much as anyone else, but this is starting to get personal. I must ask you to take it offline, so we can keep the thread from getting ugly. Thanks to you both for reading and for your initial comments.

  89. I guess name calling is how you single handily whipped your community back into shape, Jessie. FYI, our community’s average age is 40 years old! Don’t be too quick to assume that everyone that’s retired is old (whatever that is). Most are well educated, long time residents and knew exactly what they bought into. You’re trying to push my buttons just to get a rise from me for attention and offer nothing constructive to say for the readers. My message was “Read before you buy” but you chose to pick a fight. I’m done, Kevin. Thanks!

  90. We’ve live in our home going on 15 years. When purchased we were told HOA was voluntary as well as fees of $25 a year. Never been bothered except for an occasional letter taped to our mailbox about civic meetings but that was it. This month we’ve noticed on more than one occasion a vehicle parked on our street. With new construction going on around here we DIDN’T think anything. But then this male addressed my teenage son about matters about our sons vehicle and our property, which my minor son couldn’t answer. I found it unethical, disturbing and unprofessional. I reported it to the local authorities and called the HOA legal office only to be told even if it’s voluntary I still have to comply with THEIR demands, which I find wrong when there are so many other properties in worse condition. I feel I’m being singled out.

  91. Hi Laura – I can’t know what the situation in your HOA is, but I do know that they DO single people out. I think sometimes they do it because someone has complained, other times because someone – maybe someone on the board – has an ax to grind with you. But other times I think they just go on a dragnet because they think they have to, or because they want to flex their muscles. Tread lightly until you find out what’s going on. Unfortunately, they have all the legal authority, which is why they’re able to corner people with this nonsense.

  92. Thanks for writing this article. I’d love to send it to all the developers in my area. Sadly, even the developers arranging mini farms are including some major covenants and restrictions. We walked away from one piece of land over the principle of it. They wanted us to sign away the right to have an officer obtain a warranty before coming on our property! That’s a constitutional right. We walked away at contract signing on that one. I told him if you need to have people sign away constitutional rights in order to keep property values up then I’m fine having raunchy neighbors. C.S. Lewis said, “It’s better to live under robber barons, than under omnipotent moral busy-bodies,” and I’m inclined to agree. Keep up the good work informing the public. I know in my area the highest priced homes are in older non-hoa communities. They call it “the old money,” I call it, “the smart money.”

  93. Hi Kristen – You’re welcome. Unfortunately, it’s like preaching to the choir. The only people this topic strikes a chord with are those who have come into conflict with their HOA and see their true nature, or those who got tired of being restricted to the point of diluting the entire concept of homeownership. Most people seem thoroughly enchanted with HOAs. In Gerogia the local media couldn’t say enough good about them. Don’t bother sending this to developers. They’ll just send it to the trash bin before finishing the first paragraph.

    Good catch on constitutional rights. But since people surrender them willingly in joining an HOA, I’m not sure there’s a legal case there. Unfortunately, “The System” is in bed with HOAs. That basically removes legal remedies.

    Glad your a fan of C.S. Lewis. I didn’t know he said that but I’m hardly surprised. Many others have said it as well, in a different form, but it falls on deaf ears with most.

    I like your comment on smart money, and I’m familiar with the term/concept. I’ve learned that there are three kinds of monied people types: Money, Smart Money and Dumb Money. You can pick out Smart Money because they usually don’t follow the herd. That means you rarely find them in HOA neighborhoods. That’s because they (or their lawyers) read the fine print, and never voluntary surrender property rights.

    BTW, you don’t have to have a lot of money to be Smart Money. You just have to stay alert and avoid following the herd with the money that you do have.

  94. Jessica and Guy,

    I’ve found in my HOA it’s the same as Jessica has described. Older people (75 and up) with no life accomplishments to speak of other than several failed marriages, no successful career, and a few children and grandchildren on their resume. Power hungry to the max, self-dealing, and calling the rest of us “pariahs.” I applaud you Jessica for standing up and serving on the board. We’ve had a few younger and well-educated board members but in no time they resigned. Dealing with those board members drunk on their power became too much to tolerate.

  95. Nilla, is that how you see all HOAs? Is that how you see all younger HOA board members? What did Jessica do that was worth applauding? Couldn’t it be that the previous board just was incompetent by comparison? I’m in a community of 20 homeowners and I don’t see what you describe. All would rather not be board members but realize that it’s a necessary evil to have a board in place.

  96. Hi Guy – I certainly see what Nila means. In larger HOAs it’s exactly as she says. People claw at each other to get on the board. Some of them do it in the hope of launching a political career I think. But a lot of them also seem to be on a power trip. Haven’t seen older folks dominating though. It was always the younger ones in the HOAs I’ve been in. They always seem to attract the same people types.

  97. Great article, Kevin

    I personally didn’t have a conflict with HOA when I bought a new house that had one, but indeed they are trouble and some of them are out of control. There were stories of hoa issuing parking citations then charging 10-s of thousands of dollars legal fees to go to court to collect said parking ticket. Like, can’t park on the street. Needless to say when I moved to another area I bought an older home without hoa. I am extremely happy about that. I cannot

    In our area (DC) it is very hard to find a property without an HOA or a condo with low condo fee if you buy a condo.
    Even when you buy land, it turns out there is an hoa in place already unless that land parcel is huge. In one area near a lake a 0.24 acre wooded lot is priced at $1000. That caveat? There is an hoa, and they collect $1000 per year from anyone who owns a lot. Crazy! Little wonder people want to get rid of such land at any price.

    Your advice to avoid hoa is great, but properties without one are not easy to find!

  98. Hi Vic – I get what you’re saying about not being able to find houses not in HOAs. We had the issue in the Atlanta area, where most neighborhoods have them. Here in New Hampshire, they seem to be rare, like you’d have to specifically look for one to find it. I like it better this way. HOAs are a government within a government, and we already have more than enough government at all levels. I can’t see going into one voluntarily, but I get that they’re getting harder to avoid.

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