Homeowners share cautionary tales of HOA nightmares

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Homeowners associations have virtually unlimited powers over the neighborhoods they serve.

The power of Homeowner's Associations: You pay your mortgage and taxes, but HOAs still have the power to boot you from your home.

When you're looking for a new home, you always make sure that home meets your needs, and that you like the neighborhood. But you also need to check out the kind of power the HOA has in the neighborhood.

Erica and Brandon Carter have been living in their Willow Spring neighborhood for 10 years. Erica said the HOA has had issues with where she parks her vehicles. The Carters were first fined for parking on the grass near their mailbox. The Carters said they stopped doing that and parked all of their vehicles in their driveway and in a gravel area beside their driveway, but Erica said there were still issues.

Erica Carter's driveway.



"Some weeds have grown up through the gravel so when they would drive by they would take pictures and say we are parking on the grass," Erica said.

She said they killed the weeds and put down more gravel, but she was still faced with $500 in fines after her HOA claimed she violated the parking covenants several times.

"I pay my taxes. I pay for my house. I pay for everything," Erica said. "This is my house, they should have no right unless I'm doing something really makes the neighborhood look bad or takes down people's property values."

The Carters appealed, and according to a letter from the HOA, the fines were lowered from $500 to $200 if the Carters did not violate the covenants again.

But Erica was still upset. She said she contacted the HOA Board to see why she is getting fined, yet other homeowners in the neighborhood continue to park outside of their driveways and she says not get fined. She took some photos to document her concerns.

Erica Carter took photos of other homeowners parking in similar manner, whom she says didn't get fined.


HOA KICKS DISABLED COUPLE FROM THEIR HOME

HOAs can take it much further than just fining you for violations. HOAs can actually boot you from your home. Roger and Clara Dunlap learned that the hard way. After living in their home for 29 years, their HOA in their Raleigh neighborhood foreclosed on them.

"They took it and wasn't nothing I could do about it. It was unfair," Roger said. "You pay on a house for 29 years, and they took it."

Roger and Clara Dunlap lost their home of 29 years despite being current on their mortgage and taxes.



Despite the Dunlaps being up to date on their mortgage and taxes, their HOA foreclosed because the back yard and home were not being kept up to HOA standards.

According to court documents, Roger's HOA first notified him of problems with junk and debris in his backyard in 2013. The court documents state the HOA also had issues with the rotting siding and that the Dunlap's home was an eyesore.

The Dunlaps' back yard.



According to the court documents, the Dunlaps did not respond to the numerous violations.

The HOA began fining the Dunlaps, and over time, the fines added up to thousands of dollars for not cleaning up the home and complying with HOA covenants.

The HOA first put a lien on the Dunlap's home. When the violations were still not corrected, in 2016 the HOA foreclosed on the home. The fines along with attorney and court costs were over $10,000.

According to Roger, he and his wife are 100 percent disabled and his wife has dementia. When the HOA was taking action against him, Roger said his wife was in and out of the hospital after suffering a stroke and also battling throat cancer.

He said he didn't realize how serious the problem was when it came to his HOA. He said he made several improvements that the HOA asked for, but he said it was never enough.

Roger's brother Jim added: "They said he couldn't put anything under his deck, then they said nothing under the floor, then they started walking around the house and picking."

When I asked Roger if he got the numerous violations letters his HOA sent to him, he said he did not. He said he never knew the HOA foreclosed on his home and was kicking him and his wife out of their home of 29 years until a sheriff's deputy showed up at his door to tell him he had to be out, he no longer owned his home.

He says he was shocked and tried to get help from an attorney, Kimberly Thomas.

"He had no clue with regards to how much power this association had." Thomas said.

Thomas said Roger's HOA did give him ample time to take action and filed all of the proper paperwork with the courts. She said she wishes Roger would have sought her help earlier because by the time she got involved, she says it was tough to help Roger save his home as the HOA already owned it.

In a last-minute effort, she says Roger did pay the HOA the more than $10,000 in fines, court costs, and attorney fees.

"They got the check, but then they sent the check back to the attorney with a note saying no his house is really in bad shape we need something more," Thomas said.

Thomas said she, along with a representative from the HOA met at Roger's home to see what else he had to do to save his home. She says the list was long.

"It was like they wanted every little thing with his house fixed," Thomas recalled. "It was crazy. It was literally crazy, it just made no sense. It's not like this was the most pristine community in the history of the world and you have this one dilapidated house."

Roger was not able to meet the HOA requests, and he and his wife said goodbye to their longtime home.

"It was hell, I only owed $30,000 on the home. They took it from me," Roger said.

According to the Wake County Property Tax records, the HOA recently sold the home.

PROTECT YOURSELF FROM HOSTILE HOA ACTIONS

If you live in a community with an HOA, Thomas said: "You need to understand these are powerful organizations that can affect the way you live."

She said the first step for homeowners is to respond when your HOA puts you on notice.

"Don't ever ignore the letters from an association, because it can be escalated," Thomas warned.

She suggests meeting with the board or even having an attorney look at your case to see what your options are. Thomas added that HOAs can be a great benefit to a community, but as a homeowner, you still need to understand it's a buyer-beware situation.

"You might think you are king of your castle, but unfortunately the castle is sitting in a kingdom and the kingdom happens to be the association and you better be agreeable to everything that kingdom says you can or can't do," Thomas said.

She advised it's wise to get involved in your HOA so you know what's going on in your community, get on a committee or even the board, and at the very least show up for the annual meetings.

Again, don't ignore those violation letters as they can escalate to something very serious, even the loss of the home you've worked so hard to build.

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