The truth about Homeowners Associations

Knowledge of Homeowners Associations protects rights
Homeowners Associations are supposed to maintain your neighborhood's appeal and property value. 

But what about your rights?

Courtesy CBS WTEV 47 Jacksonville
Published 5/11/2005


The truth about Homeowners Associations
Homeowners Associations are supposed to maintain your neighborhoods appeal and your property value.


The saying good fences make good neighborhoods rings true for many people. But what if your neighborhood will not let you build a fence?


Right now, more than 50 million Americans live in deed restricted communities. Homeowners Associations are supposed to maintain your neighborhoods appeal and your property value. But what about your rights?


Look closely beyond the manicured lawns and palms trees, and you will see an ugly division in many picturesque Florida neighborhoods. Neighbors watch their neighbors and no one waves when you drive down the street.


Deed restricted communities are a big selling point, but by moving in, you are agreeing to pay your dues and follow the associations rules.


In many neighborhoods, an un mowed lawn, setting your garbage out too early, installing a flag pole or even having the wrong colored flowers can mean a fine. Ignore it and you could end up in court.


After a five year battle over the right to fly the American flag on a flag pole, a Jupiter man faced foreclosure after he was sued by his homeowners association for $20,000 dollars in legal fees.  


An extreme case? Think again.


Some estimates say more than half of America 's deed restricted communities are involved in some kind of legal dispute.


"People look at a house and say, ‘Oh well, we're going to buy it’, but they don't realize it comes attached with a lot of restrictions," say Jan Bergemann, organizer of a grassroots organization called Cyber Citizens for Justice.


Bergeman says Florida does not protect homeowners who live in a neighborhood association. His website illustrates dozens of cases where people lost their homes over as little as six dollars in unpaid dues.


"In a homeowners association, you’re really suing yourself because the developer or the board is using your dues to defend its own mistakes,” says Bergemann. “It makes no sense."


Jim Carr knows both sides of the equation. He spent four years as President of his homeowners association.


"If you volunteer to serve, you need to take the time to familiarize yourself not only with the rules and regulations but with the people that make up the homeowners association," says Carr.


In a situation where one complaint can lead to bad blood, it is recommended complaints be taken to a board member or the management company, rather than putting it in writing. Also, talk to your neighbors. They may be having the same problem.  


If you've been cited for an infraction, don't ignore it. You typically have 14 days to respond or face fines.


You can go before the board to ask members about your citation. By Florida law, you can speak at a board meeting for 3 minutes on any topic. You also have the right to documents generated by the association. But if you do end up in court, the legal waters get murky.


Homeowners are not getting much help in Tallahassee where a house measure to regulate homeowner and condo associations died in committee, as did a senate measure forbidding condo associations from foreclosing over small amounts of money.


In a recent vote, the Florida House voted 99 to 11 in favor of a measure that allows homeowner associations to force you to sell your home to collect fines for violations of use restrictions.


This comes despite a recent court ruling in March in which a Florida appeals judge ruled homeowners associations can not foreclose on a home to recover fines or legal fees.