Ask Andy: Homeowners associations - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Reported by Andy Wise

Ask Andy: Homeowners associations

I'm a firm believer in neighborhood homeowners associations.  I'm a firm believer in covenants and restrictions.

I don't want to see someone's Dodge Dart on cinder blocks in the 3-foot high grass of their front yard any more than the next neighbor.

But let me tell you, when your board or a single board member goes on a big power trip, these associations can be a major pain.

We have a "street Nazi" on the board of my neighborhood association.  The kind that measures every blade of grass, writes anonymous threats about your kids' basketball goal, but lets her dog poop in your yard.

That's exactly my point about these associations.  When a board or board member adopts a double-standard, they defeat their purpose -- just like it appears they have in "Kathy's" neighborhood in Southeast Memphis:

"Can a neighborhood association charge maintenance fees to one part of a neighborhood and not the other?"

No, it cannot, Kathy. By law, a neighborhood homeowners association cannot set one standard for some residents and another standard for the rest.

The American Homeowners Resource Center (http://www.ahrc.se/new/index.php/src/home) says a majority of all the association's homeowners must approve any changes to its bylaws.

The bylaws must allow due process for fines or liens.  That means there must be a process for homeowners to fight any fines and have their side heard.

There must be equal penalties for equal violations. You can't fine one homeowner $50 for something, then another $100 for the same violation. In fact, the bylaws should list specific violations and their specific penalties.

But here's the loophole.

Board members can often make changes to what's called "house" rules. With some groups, they are as binding as the bylaws, but the homeowners don't know about them.

"Even if you were to be given the rules today, they're probably already out of date because (boards are) constantly making changes to the rules at whim," says Elizabeth McMahon of the resource center.  "And they couldn't care less if you don't like them."

A few years ago, I arranged legal counsel for a woman to sue the Cordova Club homeowners association. It put a $150 tax lien on the woman's house because she parked her car in her driveway!

The group's house rules were if you have two cars, they must be parked in your garage with the garage door down.  One of her vehicles was a large SUV, so she could not fit two cars in her garage.

The board told her to sell her SUV and buy something smaller.

She sued -- and lost -- and the case set a precedent for petty homeowners association rules all over Shelby County.

But you should still have your voice heard. 

Request time for due process or public comment at your association's next meeting.  Get your grievances on the record.  The association must keep minutes of its meetings and make them available to its members. 

If necessary, those minutes can be obtained through subpoena if your problem ends up going to court.

Here's a great article about the 10 things your homeowners associations doesn't tell you:

http://loan.yahoo.com/m/primer13.html

 

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