5 On Your Side

Homeowners need to know rules, rights

Posted November 13, 2008
Updated October 12, 2011

— Homeowners’ associations can be powerful. Most run smoothly without an issue. With more than 2 million people statewide living in neighborhoods covered by homeowners’ associations, however, there are bound to be problems when property rights that residents believe they have clash with neighborhood boards' rules.

Experts say the key is knowing what you are getting into before you buy in the neighborhood.

“Your association board of directors is like a small town council,” said Attorney Clark Brewer, who represents homeowners’ association (H.O.A.) boards and homeowners.

Brewer said H.O.A.’s have power, and too many homeowners don’t realize it.

“Quite often, whatever they're thinking about doing that is exterior-related pertaining to their townhouse or house … to putting in fences, sheds … they have to go through an approval process,” Brewer said.

Raleigh homeowner Les Bernstein found that out the hard way. He spent $6,500 putting in an artificial lawn. He never got required permission from his H.O.A, and they ordered him to rip it out.

They were within their rights to do that, as long as they are consistent in how they treat all homeowners, Brewer said.

Problems arise when boards don’t apply rules consistently, or change them “after the fact," according to Brewer.

That’s what Donald Reece, also of Raleigh, says happened to him over his mailbox.

Reece said he switched his mailbox to a hand-painted one five years ago. Reece said his H.O.A. decided two years ago that all mailboxes must be hunter green.

“You don’t change the rules of the game in the middle of the game and think everybody’s gonna follow them,” Reece said.

Reece said he has been receiving letters from a management group saying he must change his mailbox or they will fine him.

Pittsboro resident Crystal Adu’s H.O.A. battle happened before she ever moved in. The board approved the vinyl trim on her home. But months later, changed the rules and told her to replace the trim – at an estimated cost of $17,500. In the meantime, Adu and her family were forbidden to use neighborhood amenities.

“They’re attacking me, attacking my family, and I feel like that’s pretty intimidating,” Adu said.

After 5 On Your Side’s calls, the H.O.A. dropped the trim issue.

“There are definitely boards who go too far,” Brewer said. He believes that was the case with Adu’s trim and possibly Reece’s mailbox.

Even in cases where the rules are clear, Brewer cautions that despite their power, H.O.A. boards need to remember that the people they govern are neighbors.

“I think it comes down to what is a reasonable approach to take? What is a reasonable outcome? And don’t just insist on enforcing rules just because they’re there," Brewer said.


This story is closed for comments.

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  • Johnny Da Lounge Nov 17, 2008

    If an HOA ever fined me, or, tried to take my home over some "after the fact" BS, believe me I will be disapointed. I'm wouldn't be surprised if members of the HOA, coincidentally, had problems of their own. Problems that may focus their energy to their own property issues. I don't imagine that something like that will ever happen. But problems arise. Everyone should get a list of HOA members before they buy. You know. Just so you know who you have to deal with. On a friendly basis, of course

  • taurismo Nov 14, 2008

    We moved here from an area at a time that HOAs weren't even heard of. Nobody informed us of HOAs and their stupid rules and regulations. After we closed on our house, we were handed a folder with all the 'covenants' of 'our HOA'. We have never even read through them. As we later learned, our neighborhood was built in stages and each stage has different covenants pertaining to them. Fortunately, our HOA dues are not only low, but also not mandatory. I have stopped paying the dues a few years ago. I do not believe in HOAs and think they are useless.

  • bottleworks Nov 14, 2008

    HOA are the worst concept ever.

    "You read the rules before you buy, then live by them. The HOA can't change the rules after the fact"

    Most agreements have a clause that allows additional rules if the board agrees to them. So, yes they can. It allows the people beside you to legally control your house and land.

    cwiltf: "They never paid a dime to the association in fines!"
    Nor should they. You and I don't live anywhere near each other, but Are you going to try to control my house paint colors next? Sounds like it.

    HOA are all run by people who -love- power and control.

  • mkereardon07 Nov 14, 2008

    We need to be protected from ourselves...that is all we need to remember when we think of HOAs.
    We need laws that protect homeowners, and strict enforcement of those laws.
    When Laywers and Prop. Managers have their own lobbying group, the Community Associations Institute, that lobbys to stop these kinds of laws, WE SHOULD KNOW SOMETHING IS REALLY WRONG!!!
    People are now realizing that HOAs are toxic investments and are AVOIDING THEM.

  • readme Nov 14, 2008

    It's not rocket science. You read the rules before you buy, then live by them. The HOA can't change the rules after the fact, that seems pretty self-explanatory also.

  • mkereardon07 Nov 14, 2008

    What a joke! HOAs are supposed to add value to our homes...they absolutely do NOT! (See the study published by Harvard Univ)
    When HOAs can threaten fines and foreclosures so easily, without any oversight, this DECREASES THE VALUE of any home located in an HOA.
    The only group of folks who REALLY BENEFIT from HOAs are the LAWYERS AND PROP. MANAGERS!
    They even have their own lobbying group to prevent ANY laws from passing that would provide State oversight and protection to Homeowners.
    People are learning to avoid HOAs, and many WILL NOT BUY there.
    Our homes are decreasing in value thanks to the fools and greedy venders who enjoy this pathology.

  • Scubagirl Nov 14, 2008

    My neighborhood doesn't have one and I too, would never live where they do. I feel it's a effort that is part of the blanding of America. No one is allowed to be individual and it's just wrong! I don't agree w/ trashy but things done in good taste should always be allowed.
    The episode w/ the guy and his fake turf was, and still is, absurd and there is no way the HOA should have pushed him like that, especially he was actually doing his part out of his own pocket, to be conservative in the drought. And it didn't look bad.

  • RonnieR Nov 14, 2008

    whiffleball, that is call discretionary enforcement and it happens in private and in public. Nothing unlawful about it.

    I've never lived in a HOA place and never will, BTW.

  • gotsomesense Nov 14, 2008


    I feel your pain. Since I have been closely involved with a couple of different pieces of "news" in the last few months I can attest to the fact that WRAL, and other news agencies I would imagine, frequently tell only one side of a story in order to sensationalize and get people up in arms about poor "victims". For instance, the dog issue in Mount Olive a couple of months ago. They reported one side of a story and the reporter called back two weeks after the incident to talk to one of the affected neighbors. He told her to kiss his behind and that he would never watch/read any WRAL coverage again because it was highly biased and unreliable. I don't know anything about this particular story, but from personal experience I don't doubt at all that WRAL only posted what they wanted people to read! And the newspapers frequently follow suit to get readers to spend $.50.

  • whiffleball Nov 14, 2008

    I sat on a HOA as a board member for over a year. I had to quit because of the inconsistency and unfairness in enforcement. Board members and their friends could remain in violation of covenants, but others couldn't.

    I live in Woodlake in Durham and see the same thing happening. It depends upon who you are or what group you belong to whether or not you'll get a fine or citation for being in violation of a covenant.