Living Within An HOA Community
Several years ago, my husband and I decided to move from a high elevation in the Rocky Mountains to the coastal area of Georgia. We visited the area we thought we wanted to retire several times before making a final decision. It happens the house we fell in love with was in a homeowner’s association community (HOA). We tried to stay away from such a community, but it’s difficult in the south, as it seems most communities are run via an HOA Board.
The dues were reasonable, a mere $460 per year. Other areas we looked at were in the thousands of dollars. Our neighborhood is beautiful and diverse. We have every nationality you can think of and every age group. We felt this made for a better community.
Three weeks after closing escrow, I found a flyer in the mail. This four-page colorful flyer told us the golf course was going up for sale. It detailed the land was zoned for any building permits, warehouses, low-income housing, and apartments. A developer could come in and do whatever they wanted, or so the flyer said. It encouraged all the homeowners in the community to pitch in $5,000 for one share of equity in the golf course. If they could raise enough money, they could keep it out of a developer’s hands, and the homeowners could own the course in the community to enjoy.
The flyer also stated if they did not meet the required amount of money, it could reduce our equity or home value by up to forty percent. This information came as a shock to us because we had been down to the golf course on several occasions before and after purchasing to see what type of membership we should buy. Yet not one person mentioned the course was going up for sale.
I wasn’t happy reading this, especially after paying cash for our house. The flyer read depending on who bought the property; we could lose at least forty percent of our equity right off the bat. I became annoyed when I found out who was running this campaign to raise money to sell the golf course. It was the realtor’s husband for the seller of our house—a nondisclosure of an important facet of the neighborhood we purchased in.
I gathered my facts and sent a letter to the Board of Realtors in Georgia explaining what had happened. In their eyes, it was serious enough to open a case against the realtor. Being new to the area, my husband and I were at the meeting, whereas the realtor produced many people also involved in the golf course’s sale to say they only started thinking about it within the seventeen days after we closed escrow.
Truly not the case, but it was their word against ours. It didn’t go in our favor. But I was okay with that because it taught her a valuable lesson. No matter what, she must disclose all facts to a seller and a buyer. I found out later that the Georgia Realtor Board doesn’t take these things seriously at all. Realtors tend to run amok in this state with no consequences.
The first time we ran into trouble with the HOA Board was when we cut down some dead trees on our property. I didn’t realize I had to get permission from someone to cut down trees on my property that I paid for and pay the taxes on. But, if the tree is over three inches round in diameter, you have to get the property manager’s permission. During the process, he knocked on our door and told us so. I apologized and told him I’d better read those CC&Rs more carefully.
The second time we had a run-in was when we put in our pool, for which we had to pay $300 to get approved. We put in a bocce ball court and decided to put up lights so we could play at night. We read through all the bylaws and restrictions and installed six lights that only shone onto the court. The bylaws stated we could have lighting as long as it did not shine on anyone else’s property. We did that.
Several weeks later, we received a nasty gram in our mailbox. The Architectural Review Board wanted to talk to us about our lighting. I called the woman in charge of the ARB, and she came over. We showed her the lights, and she told us, “Someone had complained about the lights.” She wouldn’t tell us who, but also said we had adhered to the lighting restrictions. She told us we were the first to do something like this in the neighborhood. They would need to change the bylaws for any future problems.
Our lights were nine feet high on six single poles lining the bocce ball court. She asked if we could cut them down to seven feet. We accommodated them. She asked me why I hadn’t gotten permission to install a bocce ball court. I told her the submission was with the pool plans.
The third time I had a run-in with the Board was when I found out they had a contract with the USDA. This contract is to cull/murder the waterfowl in our ponds, targeting the geese and ducks. I had no idea the HOA did this. One morning, our pond had geese and goslings swimming around, and the next morning there were none. Since geese pond jump, I assumed they were at another pond that morning. But then the following day, there were no geese anywhere. I hopped on my bike and made the rounds of the ponds in the neighborhood. All was quiet. There was not one goose, not one gosling, and only two ducks.
Outraged, I posted on Nextdoor, a neighbor-specific online site. All I said was, “Where did all our geese and goslings go?” Replies flew in. One girl sent me pictures of cages with our precious little goslings crammed into several of them and the adults packed into another. She said the USDA came early one morning and rounded them all up for euthanizing. I couldn’t believe it.
I got together with like-minded neighbors from different subdivisions, and we started a Goose Coalition. I now am a member of IDA (In Defense of Animals) and am on their steering committee. I work with other Geese organizations throughout the US to incorporate more humane means of controlling a species that almost went extinct. I presented a PowerPoint to our HOA board who wants nothing to do with our way of doing things even though it would save them a ton of money.
This past year, we experienced a small victory when they did not cull the geese. When I spoke to the head of the USDA in our area, he told me there weren’t enough geese in our site to constitute a culling. He also informed me it wasn’t up to the HOA whether they cull geese or deer; it was up to his office after they come out and do an inspection. I volunteered to learn how to humanely control our geese, which we currently have forty-one, up from thirty-one.
I am a thorn in their side now at the HOA monthly meetings. They have been rude and condescending to me, and they have my home in their sights now. I post on our two neighborhood social media sites to keep our homeowners informed about what is happening with the wildlife in our area. I have lots of support, but I also have the naysayers who tend to be very nasty, but then try to say they are neighborly. The passive-aggressiveness of their comments always makes me laugh.
The fourth time around, I was sitting in my office, and I saw the ARB head sneaking around my property. I ran downstairs, annoyed she had interrupted my headspace while trying to write. I went out back, but she wasn’t there, so I ran to the front of the house where she was getting into her car. I yelled, “Can I help you?” and she walked over to me.
Mind you, I’m not in a very good mood because I felt she could have called me rather than come onto my property without my consent or knowledge. She informed me someone had complained about the greenhouses I constructed to protect my dwarf date palms from the thirty-degree weather we’ve been experiencing. See, last year, all the fronds died from the frost, and this year I was bound and determined to keep them alive since it took all summer to grow them back.
I’m not sure why I snapped. Maybe it was from all the nasty comments I receive from community members when I discuss the geese killings and how the HOA has a large part in it by using our HOA fees to pay for it. Or maybe it was from the comments made to me when I tried to point out how common sense could save lives. Neighbors running in the dark without reflective clothing. Or riding in the rain at night on a bike without lights. Or perhaps it was the idiot on the golf cart running his dog one dark, rainy morning doing twenty miles per hour. Poor dog.
I’m not sure. But I’m the nasty neighbor who hates the community, yet I have never complained about a neighbor and what they do in their yard. Not my business, not my job to police them, and yet, they police me.
Someone complained about my greenhouses. The head of the ARB was there to check it out. Like the asshole who complained about my bocce ball lights. Well, I’ve had enough. I’m tired of being told, “Well, you live in an HOA community.” Really? Nothing in writing states I can’t have a greenhouse on my property to protect my investment. So, we put them up—a temporary fix to save my palms against the cold.
They want me to take them down, and I won’t. I hired an attorney. I’m done. I’m fighting it. This is all well and good right now, but once I take them down, my attorney informed me, I won’t be able to put them up next year if they do as they said they were going to do. They plan on adding this to their CC&Rs—a revision. So, we are asking to be grandfathered in to protect my investment.
To the nosy neighbor, get a life. Keep your nose in your yard. My greenhouses aren’t causing you any distress. So, mind your own damn business.
My takeaway from this experience these last three years is to be very careful researching what type of HOA you are buying into. The neighborhood may look pretty and well-kept, but you never know who your neighbors are. Hide your knives because you may find them in your back someday.