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Friday, July 9, 2010

An HOA Borg Takes Over: A Homeowner Horror Story

Any self-respecting nerd…um, er…I mean Star Trek: Next Generation fan knows that the Borg was a living machine that would gobble up and “assimilate” any alien race or technology it came across – kind of like a cosmic Pac-Man.

Bottom line, the Borg was unstoppable, "resistance was futile."

Although it’s science fiction, the Borg was the first thing that came to mind when I read the NPR story below of a “Borgesque” Homeowner’s Association (HOA) in Texas that gobbled up a home that was already PAID off by the owner’s, yet the owners property was “assimilated” into the collective because they missed a few HOA payments.

I happen to live in an HOA development. If your neighborhood doesn’t have an HOA here’s what one is in a nutshell.

HOAs are becoming more popular in newer neighborhoods or planned communities that are striving to protect the property values of home buyers while offering a certain quality-of-life standard as well.

To achieve those two goals, prospective home buyers within HOA planned communities are required to join the HOA as a condition of the home purchase. The buyers are usually given a massive handbook that lists all the HOA requirements to join this community.

Those requirements tend to focus on what you can and cannot do to physically modify the exterior of your home and/or garage; the landscaping and hardscaping (paving, patios…etc.) as well as perimeter fencing.

For example, if you want to build a fence around the house you purchased within an HOA there are tight specifications regarding type (e.g. wood versus vinyl), style (e.g. picket versus privacy), height, color…etc. You will usually need a couple of neighbors to sign an application to your requested changes and the application is submitted to the HOA for approval.

The intent is to try and standardize how all the homes look to ensure that no one paints their domicile hot pink or parks a junker-hobby-Mustang in the front yard to tinker with on weekends – either prospect could lower the value of the surrounding homes.

By the way, for the benefit of partially surrendering your personal freedom regarding your home improvements you typically have to pay the HOA a monthly fee that can range from $150-$500 a month. Hmmm…paying more to give up freedom, sounds like recently passed federal healthcare reform package – but that’s for a different blog.

Anyway, if you fail to pay that HOA fee the Homeowner’s Association has a contract that you signed, that allows them to take “appropriate action” that may or may not include foreclosure in extreme instances, which is exactly what happened to the military couple in the NPR story above.

It’s shameful when procedures and rules that are intended to help people, turn out to be much more damaging. It is possible to strike a balance between the agreed upon needs of the HOA collective and extenuating circumstances of an individual homeowner. An appeal process or temporary HOA amnesty for military personnel would have been a workable compromise in the case of the Texas couple.

But I guess there’s no negotiating with either a Borg or a bureaucracy.

Do you think I’m off base here or on target with this critique of HOAs?


  1. Interesting perspective! I live in a new neighborhood and have commented that I sometimes wish there was a homeowners association so campers weren't parked in the driveway year round or an unkempt and overgrown lawn. I haven't thought of the other side of things. Sounds like the trick is finding the middle ground.

  2. @Chris, I agree that balance is the key! Our experience with the HOA has been fine thus far. We have an appeals process written into the bylaws, and they first must issue "warning letters" for non-compliance before they can take any action. I think the case in Texas is quite extreme - perfect blogger fodder ;-)

  3. An HOA is a government without a bill of rights, or any checks on power.

  4. @RobotFrost, I cannot disagree with your definition of a HOA - you're spot on. While my family has been lucky thus far, I have heard horror stories. Also, thanks for sharing the link! I especially liked the HOA job listing where, "...Experience with juntas is a plus."