Lawmakers consider reining in TX homeowners associations

April 8, 2010 8:51:16 AM PDT
From painting your garage doors the wrong color to not cutting your grass, there are a lot of things that can get you in trouble with a homeowners association. But now lawmakers and homeowners are struggling to change HOA's stranglehold on suburban life. A few years ago, an elderly Harris County woman had her home sold out from under her by her homeowners association. It had foreclosed for some back dues. That case forced some minor reforms, but now a Texas Senate committee is examining whether there should be more changes to add protections for homeowners themselves.

"Once again, we're in Houston taking on homeowners association," said Sen. Royce West of Dallas.

The legislature has considered reining in the foreclosure authority of homeowners associations before without much success. Now state senators are laying the preparation for another attempt.

"If someone takes your home, they're taking everything you have. It's not like repo'ing a car," said Sen. Dan Patrick of Harris County.

According to the HOA legal industry, the lawyers who enforce the rules, the foreclosure rate for non-payment of assessments or fines is low. There were nearly 35,000 cases turned over for collection in 2008.

"Of those that were turned out, only 478 actually ended up in foreclosure for a total of 1.365 percent," said HOA attorney Ray Haley.

However, there are also the owners on the brink of foreclosure. Something as simple as the wrong color insulation tape on an outside pipe is the reason one woman says her HOA ticketed her and more.

"So we spoke out to our neighbors and then received an attorney letter from the board saying the fine is in place. We are no longer allowed to speak to the neighbors and we'll face criminal prosecution if we do and a $250 attorney fee," said homeowner Kathy Inge.

The reason for homeowners associations is to maintain the look of a community. The debate is whether they've far exceeded that mission and harmed the very homeowners they're supposed to represent.

"The legislature has not found a solution to it in terms of the balance of interests that we have to deal with. Hopefully next session we'll be able to do that," said Sen. West.

The next legislative session will be in January.

The lawmaker who introduced the homeowners association law wants Texans to get the chance to vote on it. The new law would give homeowners access to association meetings, and would make it easier to sue HOAs in addition to preventing foreclosures. There are an estimated 20,000 homeowners associations in Texas.


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