Thursday, February 11, 2010

State Report Identifies Lack Of Knowledge Regarding HOAs, Offers Solutions

I was reading an interesting article by Ron Hurtibise at News Journal Online regarding homeowners associations and found it to be very interesting.

The article discusses the absence of regulation regarding homeowners association and the unwillingness of the Republican-controlled legislature to address such a problem, preferring for associations to resolve their own dispute, typically costing homeowners thousands of dollars in legal bills for taking their matter through the courts or through the industry controlled mediation process. A draft report by the state Office of Program Policy Analysis & Government Accountability was issued pointing out how little the state actually knows about these private entities that jeopardize property rights and infringe on the personal lives of many. It also makes recommendations to the legislation, pointing out what laws would need to be changed, as well as costs.

"It is the future of Florida living," said Rep. Julio Robaina, R-Miami, sponsor of unsuccessful HOA reform legislation in 2009. "You're either going to live in an HOA or a condo. The days of living in a single-family home not governed by an association are gone."

Another fellow legislator, Sen. Evelyn Lynn, R-Ormond Beach, had said that she would need to be convinced of the need to collect data, and that she is skeptical of the costs associated with such data. Lynn is sponsoring legislation this spring "compelling banks to more quickly pay dues when they foreclose." For Lynn, the more pressing matter is to require owners to pay associations because "properties are being totally uncared for." While I see the necessity for condominium associations, where the entire community is enclosed in one giant common element that must be maintained, I do not see homeowners associations as a priority. Some offer zero amenities, such as Sand Lake Hills, yet they still seek the power for future control over peoples lives, while other associations want the power under the claim that they are protecting property values. Even homeowners associations that do have common elements, such as tennis courts, a clubhouse, or pool, to seek legislation to benefit their coffers seems un-capitalistic. Homeowners associations are non-profit corporations, which would mean that they would be operating under the minimum of conditions, but when the company can no longer be solvent, then dissolution or restructuring should be considered, not changing the rules in the middle of the game to come ahead.

I unfortunately understand that the complete elimination of homeowners associations will never occur, and as long as big lobbyists such as the Community Association Institute are around, legislation protecting homeowners will never exist, but I do support state regulation. Considering my numerous posts about the Sand Lake Hills Homeowners Association, Inc. and the lack of involvement from the government, if it was not for a particular homeowner who was able to fight them in court, the association would be able to litigate every homeowner into bankruptcy, and dealing with an association is a double edged sword because if the association lacks the funds to sue you, they can assess every homeowner, including you, to pay for the legal fight against you. Government regulation will help decrease the burden placed on homeowners and help keep associations in line. While the article does point out that regulation may not help well-functioning associations with little problems, and the homeowners in those communities would incur a small fee to fund for the regulatory body, I think it is a small price for peace of mind.

Another thing that I found interesting from this article, and in actuality many HOA related articles I have read involving legislation, it always seems that Republicans reject the notion of government regulation of associations because they prefer a limited size of government, so they instead opt for unregulated private governments that are not democratic and with the system heavily in favor of the associations. They also seem to support legislation that supports the industry because any law for a homeowner is a law against the free market, because by that logic, if you don't like community living, you have three options - one, you shut up and live with it; two, you move,; or three, you find a home with no covenants and restrictions (which Robaina pointed out is becoming increasingly difficult).

I am also for the passing of legislation eliminating the automatic renewal of covenants and restrictions, thus putting it up to the homeowners to continually decide whether or not they would like to continue operating an association, with 100% of the homeowners having to accept governance by the private organization in order for the covenants to be renewed, or at least allow an opt out clause at the time of renewal.

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