Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Suburban overlords...

Are homeowners associations in store for more state oversight? Likely.

Seeking to address complaints about abuses in Maryland's growing number of homeowners and condominium associations, a state task force is calling for greater local oversight of these quasi-governmental bodies, which essentially tax their residents to take care of swimming pools, playgrounds, trash pickup and other community services.

But at least a few members of the 23-member task force complained yesterday that the group did not go far enough in protecting residents from abuses by their homeowners or condo association boards, which have the power to fine owners or even seize and auction off their homes for unpaid fees.

The task force, created by the legislature and appointed by Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., recommended among other things that local governments field complaints from residents about such privately governed communities and attempt to resolve disputes through mediation rather than through costly court battles.

Among those "few members" who wanted stronger protections is a fequent Columbia Association critic.

"It's a start, but it falls way short of where advocates for residents wanted to go," said Alexander Hekimian, a task force member. The president of a townhouse association in Columbia, he said he has long advocated for greater accountability in associations, including the Columbia Association, which essentially governs a community of nearly 100,000 people in Howard County.

Hekimian contended that the task force was stacked with association representatives and "passed the buck" on addressing abuses by leaving enforcement largely up to local governments. He had drafted a two-page "bill of rights" for residents similar to one backed nationally by AARP. But he said the task force was unwilling even to endorse the concept, much less his language.


Meanwhile, Bill Santos has concerns of a similar sort about how CA's board of directors is handling the contract extensions of current president Maggie Brown. Also, via Wordbones, her contract is the subject of a meeting tonight.


Anonymous said...

Overlord is often an accurate term. These assn's are too frequently filled with those who seek to 'lord over' their neighbors.

In addition to unequal harassment, the covenants are nearly always filled with anti-environmental mandates. No clothes hanging, lawn mowed ever 3rd day, no tree planting (true, no kidding).

I'd like a covenant that says if my neighbor can't smell, feel, or see what I'm doing, he/she shouldn't complain. One of my neighbors told me that other neighbors will watch and police everyone, and then complain about things that have no effect on them.

Anonymous said...

Does anyone recall back to a few years ago where the villages had a "most beautiful yard" contest or something like that? Turns out all of the contenders were in violation of CA covenants. CA was kind enough to give homeowners time to rectify their violations before being cited. Ha!

Anonymous said...

Not that I agree, but here's the devil's advocate position.

a) buyers didn't read all the paperwork at settlement before signing
b) buyers did read all the paperwork, but figured they wouldn't actually be held to their word to adhere to the covenants signed and now want the community to live with their neon purple window shutters, 6-foot satellite dish, commode on the front lawn, etc.

For truly outlandish restrictions, typically associations can and do vote to change them. And overzealous association boards are quite often voted out quickly, too. Covenants can be a good thing.

MBT said...

The problem with HOAs is that you really don't have a choice. Almost all new housing, with the the exception of infill, is in an HOA. If you want to buy a house, you are practically forced into one. People can read all they want, but they really have no choice.

Also, HOAs will change rules, retroactiviely inforce rules not previously on the books, or improperly cite a resident who then has to pay to defend him/herself. I was sent a bill once for the HOA lawyer fees to determine if I had violated the rules (I hadn't and I didn't pay the bill either, after I fought it).

HOAs have their place,as does covenants, but they really have to be controlled better.

Anonymous said...

Don't really have a choice? Or do you mean don't really have a choice because you want to buy a "new" house in a specific area?

There's plenty of very nice homes in this area that don't have mandatory HOA covenants. Choices exist, no one's being forced.

HOAs can't change rules unless their bylaws allow them to change rules and typically require approval by a quorum of the membership, not just the board. If you don't care for how rules are allowed to be changed in a partcular development, do your homework first and choose another neighborhood nearby.

Yes, HOAs can be an expensive means to insure against a really bad neighbor here or there negatively impacting the neighborhood. I find those that tread lightly work best.

Some people even take the drastic step of donating their time, participating on HOA boards to ensure dumb stuff doesn't occur.

HOA controls do exist, too. The State of MD has a very nice handbook that details the state level controls already in place.