Article Courtesy of REALTOR.COM
By Angela Colley
Published May 14, 2017
Living in a neighborhood with a good homeowners association,
or HOA, can be a blessing. It takes care of the neighborhood landscaping, sets
up the neighborhood garage sales, and generally keeps things in order. In other
words, it does all the stuff you don't want to do.
Unfortunately, not all HOAs are the bake sale–and–petunias type. Some can get
downright bossy about how your home looks, what you can build, and more. And
when that happens, you have three choices: Suck it up and fall in line, move
out, or fight back.
Think fighting back is futile? Not according to these homeowners below, who
rebelled against their HOA and won—and their stories will convince you that
maybe you can, too.
The case of the purple playground
Purple might be the color of royalty, but in Lee Summit, MO, it might just get
you locked up. In 2014, Marla Stout and her family built a pretty awesome
playground for their children and let their children pick the color: purple. The
HOA saw red—and things escalated.
According to Fox News, the HOA considered this purple swingset an eyesore for
the entire neighborhood, and even threatened to put the parents in jail. The
parents, however, took their case to court and a judge ruled: Let purple reign!
Lesson learned: Yes, HOAs can have a say over what color you paint your home,
your mailbox, your swingset, or anything else visible to the public. But in
order for it to stick, banned colors must be clearly listed in the rules.
According to Consumer Affairs, this particular judge sided with the purple play
set (and its owners) because the HOA rules stated only "subdued and within
harmony with other colors of the community," not that purple wasn't allowed.
A nice new lawn—for $2,212
In 2002, during a bad drought in Tampa, FL, Ed Simmons' lawn died. So the Pebble
Creek HOA sent a landscaping crew to spiffy things up with some fresh sod. Nice,
right? Simmons thought so—until he was slapped with a $2,212 bill for the work.
According to the Tampa Bay Times, the homeowner refused to pay and took the HOA
to court. The HOA didn't back down, so the lawsuit dragged on. Eleven years
later, a judge ruled in favor of the homeowner to the tune of $85,000.
(Unfortunately, after over a decade of legal battles, the homeowner was out more
than $220,000 in legal fees.)
Lesson learned: Yes, an HOA can charge you for neglected lawn care if it has to
intervene in extreme cases. But it can't just show up, do the job, and then
expect you to reimburse the costs without warning. Homeowners have a right to
written warnings ahead of time, including for the costs they'll incur. That way
they have time to take matters into their own hands (like finding far less
A not-so-sunny sunroom renovation
In 2011, Charles and Melanie Hollis decided to build a sunroom for their two
children with Down syndrome to receive therapy in their Franklin, TN, home.
According to The Tennessean, the couple filed plans with the HOA, and then
things stopped. For the better part of a year, the HOA went back and forth with
the couple asking for more and more documents until they finally sued and won a
Lesson learned: While an HOA does have the right to approve or deny major
renovations, the Fair Housing Act does not allow it to prevent you from making
reasonable modifications to your home if those modifications are necessary for
anyone with a disability. Because the Hollises needed the space for at-home
therapy, the HOA violated the Fair Housing Act by denying this renovation.
The $500 mailbox no homeowner could refuse
In 2009, Bowie, MD,
resident Keith Strong received a letter in his mailbox from his
HOA; it demanded Strong get a new mailbox. Apparently the HOA
had decided some of the mailboxes in the neighborhood were
getting a bit tattered and wanted everyone to upgrade to the
same one—to the tune of $500 per box. Strong, having just bought
a perfectly fine $35 mailbox a few months earlier, would not
comply. The HOA tried to fine him $100 for every month Strong
didn't upgrade, so he sued the HOA for $1 (just to prove he
wasn't out for a profit; all he really wanted was for the HOA to
admit it was wrong). Seven years later, he won. He'd also racked
up $33,000 in litigation fees, so that means his mailbox
actually cost him $33,035!
The $500 mailbox that started an epic seven-year battle.
Lesson learned: While the HOA has broad powers to mandate you
keep up your home's appearance, matching mailboxes steps over the line. But
since the litigation can get pricey, it's worth airing your grievances first
with your HOA board by attending its regular meetings—and seeing if anyone else
shares your feelings. Strong had tried that route and found that many of his
neighbors agreed with him, but they caved out of fear of the HOA. Still, it gave
him the incentive he needed to forge ahead.