As they seek to enforce the rules of the community, HOAs sometimes become involved in debates, court cases and controversies based on their policies or the way they enforce them. Some may result from miscommunication and be easily resolved, while others are more difficult.
1. The Pet Kangaroo
A Texas family recently brought a 6-month-old kangaroo home with them to train as a vocational animal. This was meant to help their daughter, who has Down syndrome. The homeowners association responsible for their residence soon sent them a letter saying the kangaroo had to be removed because it was not serving a business purpose and did not qualify as a household pet. The HOA reversed its position in less than two weeks after an outpouring of support for the family, and stated that it was unaware the animal was being used to help the daughter therapeutically when the letter was sent.
2. The $40,000 Parrot
A couple in Ontario were eventually taken to court after their HOA determined they had violated the no pet policy by keeping a parrot in their unit. The couple states that the animal was there for about two weeks, being cared for on behalf of a friend, although the HOA maintains that it was present for longer.
After some legal proceedings, the couple agreed to pay $3,000 in court costs, only to be told that the condo board was seeking more than $41,000 to cover expenses incurred as they tried to get rid of the offending parrot. A judge eventually ruled that these costs were excessive and requiring them to cover only $1,500 in legal fees.
3. The Giant Menorah
The HOA of a gated retirement community and a resident rabbi went back to court some time after successfully resolving a dispute over the displaying of religious icons on community property. When the HOA put up a 6.5 foot Christmas tree, Rabbi Arthur Grae insisted it be matched by a Menorah of equal height. The HOA later claimed that the rabbi had discussed the terms of the agreement despite it being confidential, reopening the seemingly closed issue.
4. The Case of the Colored Christmas Lights
One Pennsylvania HOA has rules specifying that only white, steady Christmas lights may be put up on the outside of neighborhood homes, and imposes a $10 fine for each day the rule is violated. When some residents took issue with the rule and circulated a petition, gaining 62 signatures, the HOA conducted a survey. Of 38 respondents, 19 favored the restriction to unblinking white lights, 14 voted to allow unblinking colored lights and five wanted blinking colored lights to be allowed. The HOA determined that the vote was conclusive, with 19 to 14 against colored lights.
5. The Stolen Statue
When one Pennsylvania family's statue went missing from below the window of their condominium, the culprit turned out to be their HOA. The 150-pound cement statue of the Blessed Mother was on community property, where residents are not allowed to place anything.
The policy was violated for several months, resulting in the HOA assessing a cumulative fine of more than $4,000 and holding the statue until the amount is collected. Later, the HOA revoked the family's right to park for failure to pay the fine.
6. The Therapy Playhouse
A Kentucky family got into a legal showdown with their HOA after it objected to their maintaining an unauthorized structure on their property. The therapy playhouse was built for $5,000 as a venue for the couple's three-year-old son, who has impaired speech and limited movement on his right side due to cerebral palsy. They say their doctor recommended it and their son's mobility has improved through its use. The HOA objects primarily to the fact that the structure is not approved. The matter resulted in lawsuits and a legislative proposal in addition to the debate between the family and its HOA.
7. The Too-Tall Flag Pole
A veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps was sued by his HOA after he put up a flagpole to display both the American and Corps flags, on the grounds that the pole does not meet design guidelines for his subdivision. The bylaws permit flags to be flown atop 6-foot poles attached to the homeowners' residences.
The resident put up his 20-foot pole after his application to do so was denied and subsequent protests had no effect. The HOA states that it is attempting to enforce its rules, and decided to seek a $10 fine for each day the pole stands, as well as attorneys' fees and a court order to take the pole down.
8. The War Over Too Many Roses
California homeowner Jeffrey DeMarco developed a major problem with his HOA when he planted too many roses on his four acres and regraded the site. The HOA assessed a monthly fine, then followed up by putting a lien on his property and eventually threatening to foreclose. DeMarco lost the ensuing court case and his home, and was required to pay the $70,000 in court costs the HOA board had amassed in the process.
9. The Driveways without Borders
Six Georgia homeowners who jointly hired a contractor to redo their driveways wound up in trouble with their HOA as the work failed to comply with community requirements. The stamped concrete was required to have a 24-inch smooth ribbon border around it, and did not.
One of the homeowners says that the end product is actually higher-quality than what is mandated, because the lack of cracks makes it less prone to taking damage due to freezing water. The group managed to gather signatures from about 75 percent of the neighborhood's homeowners on a petition supporting them, but this was discounted by the HOA, since the document has no formal standing.
10. The Truck in the Driveway
Florida homeowner A.J. Vizzi was sued by the community association for parking his truck in his driveway in violation of its rules years after moving in. When he first came to the neighborhood in 1997, his subdivision indicated that it would not be a problem.
In 2008, he won the two-year court case brought by the HOA, ending the matter until it appealed the decision. The proceedings dragged on until March 2010, when he won the appeal. This lead to an award of more than $187,000 to cover legal costs, making the HOA's total costs more than $300,000.
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