MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Run-ins with the HOA can turn homeownership into a nightmare. Homeowners associations are designed to benefit the community, but sometimes they pit property owners against the HOA.
Gerald Jenkins is proud of his Cordova home he has lived in since 2016, making sure he keeps it in shape from the curb to the door.
“Everybody wants a beautiful home,” Jenkins said.
But he wishes he could say the same about his Homeowners Association that is supposed to keep tabs to make sure properties don’t become eye sores. He said it worked that way with his former HOA.
“We had certain violations like basketball goals, trash cans had to be out of sight. Neighbors had to keep their yard mowed, keep the neighborhood looking nice. That wasn’t the case when I moved here,” said Jenkins.
He says he pointed out case after case of neighbors’ overgrown grass to the association, including one house where trash bags have covered broken windows for months.
“We are supposed to let them know of any violations or anything,” he said. “Here, we had to do all the work for the HOA. It says in their charter they will send a notice out of any violation and you have 15 days to correct it.”
Jenkins, so upset the association was not responding, stop paying his $150 a year association dues.
“When I got the second bill, I said ‘I am not gonna do this.’ They are not doing anything for me. What benefit am I getting out of this?”
He stopped paying in 2017, though the bills kept coming.
“I just filed them away. I wouldn’t pay them,” he said. “I would call them and discuss the concerns I had with them.”
He racked up a $600 bill. Then came a summons; the HOA was taking Jenkins to court.
“They are not living up to their end of the bargain, why should I live up to my end?” said Jenkins.
The association declined our request for an interview to talk about Jenkins’ complaints and their job of keeping the neighborhood clean and problem free. But HOA tugs of war are nothing new.
“It can get very contentious,” said Attorney Charles Weirich. He is with OrtaleKelly Law Firm that handles many HOA cases.
He says problems come when expectations aren’t met.
“People who move into a Homeowners Association have certain expectations, a lot of times the way their neighbors will keep up their property and the amenities that will be available to them in the HOA. When someone falls short of that, that can often lead to a little bad feelings,” says Weirich.
Weirich says it doesn’t matter whether you signed to join the HOA or not.
“Ordinarily, you are not gonna sign anything. It is going to be in the master deed for that subdivision or development,” Weirich said. “That master deed will include the restrictions on the property. It may also grant the HOA the right to institute rules and regulations and have some control such as over the color that you paint your house.”
But he says there are certain expectations HOAs are expected to meet.
“A good manager in that situation is going to make sure that people live up to the expectations in that neighborhood, that they follow the rules and don’t leave their trash cans out beyond a certain time of the day,” said Weirich.
Tennessee State Representative Dwayne Thompson says HOAs in general do a good job, but he has also heard horror stories.
“Honestly, there are not that many regulations governing HOAs. They pretty much can do what they want to do,” Thompson said. “They are collecting the money, but are they really providing the service?”
It’s why he is investigating what type of restrictions can be placed on HOAs at a state level.
“My thoughts are we should just have some enforcement mechanism to make sure all HOAs have at least a minimum standard of service they give to residents,” said Thompson.
But Weirich says one big no-no is not paying dues to the association in protest.
“That is a dangerous game to play because the HOA is typically granted the ability to take a lien against your property for the payment of those fees,” said Weirich.
He says HOAs should discuss any problems with homeowners before taking action, and homeowners should review the association rules before they purchase their home, noting if mediation or arbitration is required before filing suit.
“You certainly could file suit to try to force them to do what they are supposed to do under the HOA rules and guidelines. It’s very expensive though,” said Weirich.
Right now, Jenkins says his case has been postponed, but he is not giving up. The odds may be against him, but he says the fight is worth it.
“I’ll take my chances and go to the judge and show him pictures and evidence and hear my side. Maybe I will get a fair hearing,” Jenkins said.