Plenty of people love homeowners associations for keeping neighborhoods tidy and packed with amenities. But HOAs also have a lot of say — too much, many argue — when it comes to otherwise private property, from whether certain flowers can be planted to which renovations you're allowed to take on. Here are more than two dozen cases of homeowners confronting overzealous HOAs.
Firefighters in Pasco County, Florida, gave an HOA horror story a happy ending in mid-July after a man suffered a heart attack trying to lay sod at his home to avoid an association fine. "While he was having his heart attack, literally in and out of consciousness, he kept begging me to figure out the sod," the man's wife wrote on Facebook. As firefighters took the man to a hospital, a brother-in-law took up the task, "planning on staying there by himself until midnight to get it finished." But the firefighters came back to finish the job and make sure the grass didn't go to waste. “We believe in helping the community whenever we are needed," firefighters said in their own Facebook post.
One HOA threatened a Missouri family with fines and even jail because their backyard playhouse and swing set were purple — a color that wasn't preapproved, though the playset was up for more than two years before the HOA took issue with it. A judge eventually ruled in the family's favor.
An Ohio veteran became embroiled in controversy for wanting to fly a U.S. flag in his yard. The problem: His 15-foot flagpole was against HOA rules, which required flags to be flown from a short stanchion attached to each house. After plenty of media attention, the HOA backed down, and the homeowner's flag went up again — complete with patriotic songs, Boy Scouts, and the American Legion on hand.
Florida kids got a harsh reality check from their neighborhood HOA when it filed a complaint against their lemonade stand. The HOA's beef: No businesses were allowed in the neighborhood — and no signs, either. Making the action even worse, the kids were raising money for the school of a friend's disabled sister.
A Florida man's pickup truck was too big for his garage, so he parked it in the driveway. The HOA, which wanted all vehicles in garages, decided it was unacceptable — despite having given him permission before moving in. The homeowner stood his ground, winning a legal battle that lasted more than three years. The HOA was left on the hook for the man's legal fees, by then more than $187,000.
HOAs seem to have strong feelings about animals. This time it's rabbits in the crosshairs. A Colorado HOA decided its neighborhood was becoming overrun by the creatures and voted to remove them — without telling residents the rabbits would be killed after removal, which caused outrage from some. One finally decided to pay out of her own pocket to have them relocated instead.
In 2008, a northern Virginia couple put up a campaign sign a few inches too tall for the HOA. The homeowners cut the sign in half to get around the rule — but the HOA didn't much like that either. The conflict eventually spurred a protracted legal battle that also involved the couple's deck and roof renovations, as well as whether the HOA had the power to levy fines. After several years, the homeowners prevailed, leaving the HOA in financial ruin.
Pink plastic flamingos remain a kitschy favor of some homeowners, but one HOA decided there was nothing charming about this particular lawn décor, iconic though it may be. It fined a Georgia homeowner $25 a day for setting out the flamingos — something he didn't discover until trying to sell his house, when he was hit with a $3,400 lien.
A North Carolina woman sinned by painting her shutters without approval from the HOA. When she did go through the process, her color choice — dark plum — was denied. She was eventually hit with fines for more than $1,000, so she took her shutters down. The HOA fined her for that, too. Angry residents cobbled together enough support to replace the HOA board with one that approved her plum shutters.
One Florida HOA caused a furor for proposing that kids no longer be allowed to play in common areas — no running, tag, or "acting boisterously" whatsoever. Children would also have to be supervised by an adult at all times. Residents in violation could get slapped with a $100 fine. Eventually, the HOA delayed its decision as parents threatened to sue; it's unclear whether it ever came up for a vote.
A Florida woman and enthusiastic Disney fan decided to plant a whimsical flower bed in the shape of Mickey Mouse, but her unimpressed HOA told her Mickey didn't fit in with the neighborhood, and to either remove the flower bed or modify it by removing the ears. She decided to move out — pledging to avoid HOAs in the future.
Those darn kids are at it again — this time with chalk. A Denver-area HOA decided kids' chalk drawings in the common areas were an eyesore that could disturb residents. But banning them whipped up so much negative attention that a larger homeowners association in the area took pains to distance itself from the situation.
A North Carolina homeowner installed vinyl trim on her home in an upscale community, a move approved by the HOA — until it wasn't. Six months after the trim was installed, the HOA reversed course and decided it didn't like it, revoking the homeowner's right to use community amenities and threatening fines and litigation. After a little media attention, the HOA dropped the issue.
One Pennsylvania HOA decided a homemade yard decoration — a sign with red tinsel spelling out "Jesus" — had to go after a complaint from another neighbor. The real reason, the HOA claimed: It "was not in accordance" with normal Christmas decorations, but was instead a prohibited sign. The homeowners stood their ground, arguing the sign was indeed a decoration, and would be removed before a mid-January deadline governing the removal of all holiday decor.