25 HOA Horror Stories That Will Make You Fear the Homeowner Association
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 25 times homeowners were forced to do battle with overzealous HOAs.
A Sacramento-area HOA stunned residents by requiring them to leave their garage doors open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. every day or face a $200 fine. The supposed problem: People living illegally in the garages. The HOA backed down after the requirement spurred plenty of backlash from residents none too pleased with having to lock down bikes and other valuables.
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.
A Georgia HOA sued a homeowner after it decided a little girl's pink playhouse had to go. The crux of the issue: Was the playhouse, which wasn't even visible from the road, "play equipment" that didn't need HOA approval? Or an "outbuilding" that did? The HOA finally backed down, perhaps partially spurred by national news coverage.
A Tennessee family decided to replace some window blinds with curtains after their young daughter almost strangled to death getting trapped in the blinds' cords. But the HOA said the curtains ran afoul of a requirement for 2-inch blinds on all front-facing windows. Instead of fighting the HOA, the family decided to move.
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 North Carolina man thought he was being helpful when he planted a few dozen pansies in a neglected part of a common area in his subdivision. The HOA disagreed, fining him $100 a day for the rogue flowers; they filed a lien on top of it. The homeowner ended up paying a whopping $19,000 for fines and legal fees.
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.
An HOA left plenty of nature-loving North Carolina homeowners in disbelief over its decision to trap and kill up to three dozen beavers who'd taken up residence on a neighborhood creek. The problem? Beaver dams were causing water levels to rise, threatening the community's boardwalks and bridges. Pleas to simply relocate the beavers fell on deaf ears because the state deemed them a "nuisance animal" legal to kill, but not to move.
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.
Drying clothes in the fresh air may be eco-friendly, but don't tell that to one Oregon HOA, which went after a woman for putting up a clothesline in her backyard. Though the homeowner was willing to put up a fabric screen to keep her neighbors from seeing her laundry, the HOA rejected that, too, saying it was too conspicuous. The homeowner was forced to air-dry in her garage.
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.
A disabled California woman just wanted to be able to drive home, but the snow in her Sierra Nevada neighborhood often made her street impassable. Her HOA not only refused to plow the street but fined her $500 each time her family cleared it themselves. The reasoning: Other residents wanted to use the road for snowmobiling and other recreation. Eventually, the HOA backed off the fine.
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.
Everyone loves a good display of patriotism ... except the HOA. A Louisiana family got in hot water for putting up a banner paying tribute to their son, a Marine in Afghanistan. The HOA said it didn't comply with rules governing signs in the neighborhood and sued when the family refused to take it down. Eventually, the HOA agreed to let them keep the sign up until their son's return.
One California homeowner thought she was doing the responsible thing by ripping out her grass during a drought and replacing it with plants that needed far less water. But her HOA demanded she restore some grass, telling her "it would look better" and threatening a $50 monthly fine until she complied. California later passed a law protecting residents from attempts to penalize them for installing drought-friendly landscaping.
A Texas man surprised his wife with a unique Christmas gift: A 7-week-old pot-bellied pig named Wilbur. His HOA decided the pig ran afoul of pet regulations forbidding animals that aren't "common" or "traditional," eventually threatening a lawsuit if it wasn't gone within 30 days. The homeowners sued instead, and a judge sided with them, saying Wilbur was indeed a pet and could stay.
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.
A Maryland HOA decided some homeowners' mailboxes were looking a little run down and did the completely logical thing: Required every homeowner to shell out $500 for new, matching mailboxes. One homeowner who'd just bought a new mailbox on his own decided to fight, despite facing a $100 monthly fine for noncompliance. He prevailed in court, but was still on the hook for more than $30,000 in legal fees.
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 homeowner 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.
A disabled vet had to sue his Colorado HOA after it resealed a parking lot and took away a handicapped parking spot needed for his van. The HOA claimed the spot was now in a fire lane, something the fire department quickly disproved during mediation. Unsurprisingly, the HOA backed down and settled with the vet instead of taking a chance on a civil rights hearing.
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.
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