Local man wants to limit HOAs powers
by Staff Writer
HUNTERSVILLE – A local man who faced foreclosure after piling up thousands of dollars in fines from his homeowners association has started a statewide coalition to help other homeowners throughout North Carolina.
Jim Lane, who lives in Gilead Ridge, a neighborhood with more than 400 homes, says he started the movement in response to the actions he faced from his neighborhood homeowners association.
The trouble started when Lane planted flowers in the corner of a small park within his neighborhood, a violation of his homeowners association rules. He felt the flowers would spruce up the park, which he viewed as unsightly and unkempt. But the board of the association disagreed and fined Lane $100 with a $100-a-day late penalty.
“When I was fined for planting flowers in the common area across from my home, I thought it was a joke,” Lane explained.
That initial fine blossomed into a bill of more than $9,000, including attorney’s fees when the homeowner’s association placed a lien on his home for not paying the fine.
An attorney for Gilead Ridge would not comment for this story because of pending litigation. Members of the Gilead Ridge board did not return phone calls for comment.
To avoid foreclosure, Lane finally paid the fine, but he has sued the Gilead Ridge Homeowners Association board, and its current and past members, for $800,000, claiming abuse of process and intentional infliction of emotional distress, among other things.
Lane believes homeowners associations, in general, have too much power, and personal differences among neighbors can lead to abuse of power when one or more of those neighbors sit on a board governing that community.
Moreover, there are few places homeowner can take their grievance with a board other than a courtroom, he said.
To that end, Lane has developed the website www.nchoalaws.org, an on-line support group of sorts, designed to create awareness of the laws, or lack of them, governing homeowners associations.
“You can complain to the state if you have a problem with your car or with your toaster, but you can’t complain if you have a problem with your single largest investment – your home,” Lane said. “That’s just not right.”
State legislatures have tried to limit how homeowners’ associations foreclose on property owners. A law set to go into effect Oct. 1, requires homeowners’ associations to wait until fines are at least 90 days past due before beginning foreclosure proceedings.
Homeowners associations were created as a way to uphold community standards in the hopes of keeping home values stable and neighborhoods looking nice. But a growing number of people have begun to complain about their boards as foreclosures, liens and fines have increased during the recession.
Leaders of those associations and management companies, on the other hand, have argued that dues often pay for the utility services, insurance and essential repairs that communities need to function. The associations and their advocates have argued that the law already builds in enough safeguards for individual homeowners, and adding more delays means the majority of residents in a community have to shoulder the delinquencies of a few.
Lane and other homeowners’ association reform advocates, who asked not be named in this story, ask that third party mediator be brought in to break-up disputes.
One such group of disgruntled homeowners recently met with N.C. Rep. Bill Brawley from Mint Hill to describe complaints against its homeowners association.
In response, Brawley directed his staff to research the claims through court filings, and he also asked the General Assembly’s research staff to investigate the matter.
Ultimately, Brawley hopes to better understand how much authority homeowners associations currently have to enforce neighborhood covenants and initiate foreclosure proceedings on an individual’s homes.
Lane feels the foreclosure proceedings he’s facing are unjustified, in light of the minor flower offense that started it all. He said his coalition is gaining strength through word of mouth. He said volunteers across the state have contacted him, offering to help develop the website and generate awareness for issues surrounding homeowner associations.
“I plan to hold town meetings with concerned homeowners, and even a few HOA boards who want to protect the reputation of HOAs,” Lane said.
Correction: This version corrects Jim Lane's website address