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Tuesday, May 10, 2011

A word about HOAs and why I quake at the mere mention of the word

HOA. The mere mention of that is guaranteed to make my blood boil and my hands shake. This morning on The Rant on Channel 5 in Las Vegas one lady commented on the undue control from her HOA and another said she should have read the CCRs when she bought her house, or lived somewhere else.

Okay, there are two sides of the fence, but CCRs are like a volume of War and Peace, and few people carefully read every word. Then there is the factor of  whether the board is populated by reasonable people or power mongers.

I've been on the first lady's side in the worst way---emotionally and financially to the tune of $40,000 in legal fees! Sure, it's easy to say "read the CCRs" and most people are reasonable when they accept an HOA office. But  there are those who regard being President or Vice President as their personal royalty and the peons who own properties and pay dues are simply their subjects who will do their bidding. Unfortunately, several years ago in Mar Vista CA, three of those power mongers were elected to the board of our HOA.

We had a beautiful, unique house that we loved to pieces. Three-thousand feet of soaring ceilings and so many windows in the living room you almost had to wear sunglasses inside. So, why was it unique? Because it was a condo and the rest of the complex was comprised of a four story, sixteen unit building--four on a floor. More about how that came about in tomorrow's post. There was a walkway between our house and the main building, we had a private courtyard, reasonable size private back yard and private entrance to the complex pool. Idyllic. With no houses behind us, we even had a view of sorts. We wanted to live there forever. That is until it started to crack and settle. The big building was having problems as well, that became very evident when one on the residents said her dog's ball rolled downhill in her kitchen. At the time I was President of the HOA.

I hounded the developer until they had engineers do evaluations and indeed there were some severe construction defaults in both buildings. To make a long story short, I was traveling extensively for business at time and as the negotiations with the developer and builder became more and more intense, I had to step down as President and assumed the position of Vice President, but bear in mind I was the one that got the action going.

The woman who stepped in as President was very controlling and it was her way or the highway. Her husband was a medical doctor as my husband was and who knows---maybe they were jealous that we had that wonderful home and theirs was a nice but average condo. As soon as she took over, the first sign of problems developed. She convinced the board that our freestanding single family house simply couldn't warrant the same scrutiny as a big four-story building, and insisted we didn't have any major problems, despite reports from two engineering firms. Our house continued to crack everywhere, some cracks as wide as 1/2" to 3/4" wide and many feet long. Doors were totally out of square, ceramic floor tiles cracked and the fight with the developer and builder continued.

Two years later the complex received a $1.9 Million settlement. Yep. We had serious problems. Over $200,000 was allocated to fixing our house and the rest would be used to repair common areas and units in the big building. Now the President and the Treasurer teamed up.

They called a general meeting of the residents with one purpose--to question why should they spend $200,000 to shore up the foundation of our house (which was discovered not to be to code as the house continued to "sink"), fix the substandard drainage from the pool area that continued under our house and out to the street and a multitude of other problems when it was only a house? The triumverate insisted it was better to keep the money in the HOA and have a strong reserve account. They wanted to literally put band-aids on our house while they did the full fix for the big building. They aligned the other residents against us saying that we were looking to cheat the HOA and remodel our house at their expense. There was a foot of water under the foundation, now the wide cracks were becoming visible outside as well as inside and the balcony upstairs tilted at an unnatural angle. The big building repairs were completed and they hadn't even started on ours a year later.

We finally hired a construction attorney and the battle began. It raged for $40,000 (non-recoverable) and a year and a half. During that time living in the complex became unbearable. No one wanted to believe our part of the story. At one time we smelled gas between the big building and our house and reported it. They said we were imagining it, until a telephone repair man reported that he smelled the gas. Grudgingly they had it checked by a plumbing company. A hole the size of a baseball was developing in the line between the buildings and by that time had almost eaten its way completely through the pipe. The plumber informed them that entire complex could have exploded. Still we fought to break the shackles that tied us to  the home we once loved. We couldn't sell it or rent it under the circumstances. All we could do was pay the mortgage, the HOA dues (which were twice anyone else's since our house was much bigger than the largest unit in the main building) and sneak in and out of our house like thieves in the night. The nasty attorney for the HOA treated us like criminals and made bizarre accusations that were applauded by the committee of three. They made all of this available to the other residents as though it were the truth.

In arbitration they finally agreed to do the very minimum allowable to fix the house, and literally evicted us from our own home with three day notice for the two-month-long repairs to begin. They said if we tried to negotiate more time, they would cancel the repairs. The settlement had provided for reasonable relocation expenses for any resident who had to move out for repairs. We were in hotels for two months, as the repairs kept getting delayed, and they refused to pay us one penny.



  1. Morgan's story about living in a condo is why I never wanted to live under anybody else's rules. They take your time, your money and your freedom, just like the government, bless their money grubbing hearts. Condos are just high-priced communes, include me out.

  2. You can say that again, Gayle. We would NEVER buy in that type of complex again. There is an HOA for the house in Las Vegas, but it only has jurisdiction for the common areas of the whole community of multiple developers and stuff like not being able to paint your house day-glo orange -- things like that I can live with.