Contact 13 Investigates: HOA Hall of Shame
If you've got a brown spot on your grass, beware!
Weeds in your yard or a stain on your driveway? Look out!
You could be fined hundreds, even thousands of dollars.
Some say it's the price you pay to live in a homeowner association.
But frustrated homeowners say these examples are worthy of an HOA Hall of Shame.
Contact 13 Chief Investigator Darcy Spears takes us down that hall, so you can decide whether it's shame on the homeowners or shame on the HOAs.
"It's a sickness. It's a cancer on our society," says self-appointed homeowner advocate Jonathan Friedrich.
The concept of an HOA--keeping property values up and neighborhoods looking nice--is a good one, but the reality can be a nightmare.
"Extremely, extremely bad," sighs frustrated homeowner Brigitte Porter.
And for Dr. Robin Huhn, "It has tainted the home for me."
"It almost becomes like a Gestapo where everybody's spying on everybody else," adds Friedrich.
The first stop on our HOA Hall of Shame tour is the Summerlin neighborhood of Siena, where Jonathan Friedrich represents Jack Cohen, who was fined over $11,000 by the Siena HOA.
"What were his great crimes against humanity?" Friedrich asks sarcastically. "There were leaves on the gravel."
There was also a light bulb out over the garage and...
"Up in this corner there was some staining."
On the stucco in a corner no one could see unless they went around to the backyard.
"Now that," says Friedrich, "I could see as being trespassing."
Friedrich fought the fines and got them reduced to $375, which the homeowner paid just to be done with the fight.
"Even though it's unjust and unfair." Friedrich adds.
The Siena HOA told Contact 13 their sole goal is compliance and that many fines are dismissed or greatly reduced.
They say they take the kinder gentler approach--like if you can't see it when you drive by it's probably not an issue.
They say they don't believe in examining weeds in someone's front yard.
When we pointed out how that all conflicted with Jack Cohen's case, they declined comment because of a complaint still pending with the State Ombudsman.
That's part of the Nevada Real Estate Division--where homeowners can get help with HOA issues.
Brigitte Porter's North Las Vegas HOA is our second inductee into the Hall of Shame.
She, too, has a pending case with the Ombudsman.
"This is just dealing with your homeowner association?" Darcy Spears asked as she lifted a binder at least four inches thick.
"That's a portion of it," Porter said, pointing to three others just as big.
The Heatherridge HOA is fining Brigitte over $3,000 for an unregistered car and some oil stains in her driveway.
"I'm looking up and down the street right now and I see stains in that driveway right there, that one right there, that one, that one." Spears said.
"All the way around. Yes," Porter confirmed.
Richard Sadler is the board president.
"Is everybody being fined? Because, really, it's a driveway," Spears asked him.
"Only if it's oil."
Which is almost impossible to clean off concrete, so Brigitte got permission to paint her driveway gray to cover the stains.
After a while the paint began to peel.
"So I repainted the driveway gray again," Brigitte explains. "The color didn't change. Oh no, no, no, they said. The color did change. It's not the same shade of gray."
So the fines kept coming.
"Don't you think racking up fines in excess of $3,000 is a bit outrageous?" Spears asked Sadler.
"We got houses that have over $14,000 worth of fines," he answered.
"I pay the house note but they control everything else that goes on around," says Porter. "They might as well come inside and cook the meals, do the laundry and clean the house too."
Sadler says it's standard enforcement of community rules.
"It's the responsibility of the homeowner to keep your property according to the HOA rules. And the only thing I can really say about that is if you don't like the associations, to me it's kind of simple, don't buy a house inside an association."
The law does allow for those who break the rules to be held accountable, but State Assemblyman Harvey Munford wants to keep fines from spiraling out of control.
He's drafting a bill that would cap them.
"Sometimes you look at it and it's almost like a business--like they're just out to see how much money they can make," says Munford.
Contact 13 has it in black and white.
Documents from a Summerlin HOA.
A good chunk of their budget relies on hitting homeowners with fines and fees.
For this year alone, they forecasted $116,000.
And they're right on track, assessing an average of $12,500 a month.
Now to inductee no. 3 in the HOA Hall of Shame: Calico Ridge near Lake Las Vegas.
"I have been so distraught," laments Dr. Robin Huhn.
Dr. Huhn obviously takes great pride in her home, but she's been fined over her landscaping, the pots on her porch, the addition to her home, and her back gate.
"They just want wrought iron?" Spears asked.
Not only has Huhn paid more than a thousand dollars in fines...
"The Calico Ridge Homeowners Association took me to court and I have spent over $20,000 defending myself in court," she said.
She also applied for a temporary restraining order against the HOA board president.
"And it was granted by the judge for stalking and harassment."
In District Court, a different judge threw out the HOA's case against her.
"He said the gate could stay, he liked it. The pots can stay. He liked the addition."
And after all, did anyone in an HOA ever really expect to have to go before a judge over potted plants on their porch?
"I would expect an HOA to be reasonable."
"Robin's case isn't over yet because the HOA and its attorney just won't give up.
Calico Ridge is appealing the case to the Supreme Court's mediation program.
No one with the HOA would talk due to the litigation, but an HOA industry representative familiar with the case says it's going this far because the industry has worked hard to have systems in place and appropriate procedure wasn't followed.
The HOA industry adds that problems often start because homeowners haven't read the rules of their communities--called CC&Rs.
It is everyone's responsibility to do that.
But, if you know the rules and still believe your HOA belongs in the Hall of Shame, send us an e-mail at email@example.com.
And if you feel HOA law needs changing, now is the time to contact your state lawmaker as bills are being drafted.
This February, the Legislature will be deciding on many changes to NRS 116 which is the statute that governs homeowner associations. Assemblyman Munford is again sponsoring changes to that law under Bill Draft Request 513.
This would limit the amount an HOA board can fine a homeowner, as well as make sweeping changes to give rights back to homeowners living in HOAs and level the playing field.
If you have a story idea for Contact 13 Investigations, call Chief Investigative Reporter Darcy Spears at (702) 257-8440 or send an email to 13Investigates@KTNV.com.