HOAs: Homeowners Associations or Harass over Anything?
With the advent of large, suburban developments came the birth of homeowners’ associations. Love ‘em or hate ‘em; they’re now part of life for many homeowners, and in some cases, required by the city of Grand Junction.
“There has to be a reason for the city to require an HOA,” said Lisa Cox, planning manager for the city of Grand Junction. “If there are trails, open space areas, parks; when there is something created that has to be maintained, the HOA is created to maintain that commonly held property.”
From simple amenities such as a landscaped strip and a sign to more elaborate detention and retention ponds, they all require maintenance. Commercial condominium developments also require associations if there is parking, landscaping, signage or any other shared entity that needs to be maintained, although they’re called condo associations rather than homeowners associations.
Delivery of irrigation water is another typical duty of many HOAs in the Grand Valley, as well as maintaining irrigation ponds, pumps, ditches and pipes. An HOA operates acts as the mediator between homeowners and the irrigation company when problems arise and the cost of irrigation water is part of the HOA dues. Without an HOA to deal with irrigation issues, it’s up to homeowners to maintain ditches and pipes and resolve problems with the irrigation water provider, which doesn’t always work as well in real life as it does in theory.
Kathy Deppe, broker associate with RE/MAX 4000, has been selling real estate in Grand Junction since the late 1970s. According to Deppe, a typical HOA is also responsible for monitoring and regulating covenants.
“If the HOA isn’t active, then covenants get ignored,” she said. “You lose the power that was given to the HOA for the neighborhood.”
Although a few HOAs get a bum rap for being overzealous about ticky-tack rules like leaving a garbage can out by the street beyond noon on trash collection day, most HOAs provide a valuable service. Enforcing covenants helps maintain the aesthetics and initial appeal of the neighborhood.
According to Deppe, Spring Valley, which was first developed in the 1970s, is a classic example of a development with an HOA that functions properly.
“It looks as good in the older parts as in the newer parts,” she said. “There’s pride of ownership and it comes from the HOA keeping things looking the way they should.”
Some HOAs aren’t as active as others when it comes to enforcing the covenants. When dealing with a homeowner who is doing something or not doing something in violation of the covenants, some HOAs are more successful than others about enforcing the rules. The more active the HOA board, the greater the chances that covenants will be enforced. Ultimately, an HOA doesn’t have excessive power to enforce rules. They can fine a homeowner, but if the homeowner refuses to pay the fine or follow the rules, the only recourse of the HOA is to take the homeowner to court.
“It doesn’t happen often,” said Kathy Portner, neighborhood services manager with the city of Grand Junction. “It costs a lot of money; the members have to decide if it’s worth the limited budget of the HOA to take that action.”
Although the city of Grand Junction doesn’t get involved in homeowner disputes regarding covenants, if the issue is also a matter of city codes, the HOAs can call the city code enforcement department. Budget cuts within the last two years have shrunk the department from three people to one, and the lone code enforcement officer deals first with those issues that are critical to health and safety. RVs and campers parked in front of homes are one of the most common complaints received by the code enforcement department, but also lower on the priority list.
“We ask HOAs to make the first contact about RV storage,” said Portner. “Typically, we can get pretty good compliance working with neighbors.”
Some people, particularly if they have lots of big boy toys like RVs, boats or ATVs, may choose to look for a home in a neighborhood without an HOA. Although the city enforces rules about RVs and boats parked in front of the home, it doesn’t prohibit them altogether the way some HOAs might.
Other homeowners prefer to live in a neighborhood with an active HOA. They want to feel confident that in 20 years, their neighborhood will look as attractive as it does today, without excessive vehicles parked in the driveway or on the street, with landscaping that is attractive and well-maintained and with exterior color choices deemed appropriate by the architectural control committee.