Horror stories abound of homeowners’ associations nitpicking over paint colors, dinging people for landscaping choices they never submitted for approval – even fining property owners to the point of bankruptcy.
In one North Carolina town, homeowners found their cars towed with no warning from the HOA – which has since apologized and admitted the move was wrong. That’s according to WSOC in Charlotte – which also tells the story of Congressman Robert Pittenger (R-NC) of North Carolina suing a would-be neighbor over the size of that neighbor’s home – which is under construction. Pittenger alleges the HOA never should have approved the plans near the Quail Hollow Golf Course in Charlotte.
WRTV reports an Indiana homeowner is selling and moving over a spat with her HOA about the goldfish ponds in her driveway. Pulte Homes in South Carolina is fining a homeowner $25 a day for flying the flag of Israel, according to the Post and Courier.
While the disputes between homeowners and their neighborhood associations don’t seem to be going away, HOAs are on the rise. According to the Community Associations Institute, North Carolina has the 5th highest number of HOAs in the U.S. – behind Florida, California, Texas, and Illinois.
According to Zoogby Analytics, a community association research firm, 63% of Americans living in HOAs rate their experience as positive, 22% say they're "neutral" about it, and 62% say HOA rules protect and enhance property values.
The North Carolina Department of Justice says that homeowners are “sometimes caught off guard by the power of their homeowner’s associations to assess fees and to control modifications”. The NCDOJ offers these suggestions: before buying a home in an HOA, talk to neighbors about the HOA, understand the fee structure – and how these fees might change, and the HOAs oversight powers over the property. And finally, understand the law governing HOAs – The North Carolina Planned Community Act, Chapter 47F.
The Community Associations Institute, or CAI, provides resources for HOA board members, managers, and homeowners. The group recently rolled out a Mediation program that encourages HOA Boards and homeowners to arbitrate conflict before it reaches the litigation stage.
Proponents of HOAs point to a mechanism for unhappy homeowners to oust board members or change rules -- by getting 10% of the membership to call a meeting. But critics say ousting problematic boards is not so easy and since the job is a volunteer position, boards are often populated with people who have little to no experience in the realm.
Two North Carolina attorneys who specialize in HOA cases and have worked with both homeowners and associations:
Jim Slaughter, is a partner at the law firm, Black, Slaughter & Black. He was the first North Carolina attorney inducted as a Fellow into the national College of Community Association Lawyers (CCAL) and served as CCAL’s President in 2014. He was also 2016 President of the NC Chapter of the Community Associations Institute, and he is the author of two books on association meeting procedure.
The Community Associations Institute offers educational resources and encourages HOAs and homeowners in disputes to try mediation first.