Homeowners associations, or HOAs, have long been a source of controversy and frustration for many residents. Critics argue that these volunteer boards, which oversee hundreds of thousands of homes in the and across the country, operate in a realm of petty tyranny, enforcing rules with excessive vigor and fining residents for minor infractions.
Terri DeBoo, a former homeowner, describes HOAs as “the ultimate power for people with small lives.” She recalls how her own HOA fined her tens of thousands of dollars and tried to take away her home in a bitter legal fight over drapes. “I mean, they can take away your home if they don’t like where you put your garbage cans,” she says.
Stephen Eldridge, another critic of HOAs, compares these associations to a Ponzi scheme, in which residents pay for services they either never receive or do not justify the expense. According to statistics from ipropertymanagement.com, homeowners’ fees are growing twice as fast as property values.
Despite these criticisms, a majority of residents in association-managed communities believe that the boards keep their neighborhoods attractive and inviting and their property values high. A Gallup poll released in July reported that just 27% of Americans expressed confidence in their institutions, the lowest level ever recorded in the 50-year-old survey.
As the number of HOA-run communities in and across the country continues to grow, the relationship between the neighbors who sit on the boards and those who live under their rules and directives may be worsening, due largely to the widespread anger and suspicion directed at most sources of authority.
Harold Hudson, a retired Presbyterian hospice chaplain who is now his HOA’s president, said that he had been forced to take over his association board after the longtime leader was found to be taking kickbacks from a plumber hired to do unauthorized work.
However, not all residents have negative experiences with HOAs. Some believe that the boards play an important role in maintaining the aesthetic and value of their neighborhoods. But for those who have been on the receiving end of heavy-handed enforcement and exorbitant fines, the experience can be a nightmare.