By Catherine Reagor| October 14th, 2019
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Anyone living in a community with an HOA who has rolled their trash can out a few days early or back in a few days late has likely been hit with a fine.

But a new survey shows many people refuse to pay those fines.

Almost half of metro Phoenix residents live in communities with a homeowners’ association. It’s a way of life in the Valley, and many people like the order and rules that HOAs bring.

But fights with HOAs also are common.

“Nit-picky rules are often at the heart of HOA-homeowner tensions, which can make residents feel like they’re perpetually under someone’s thumb,” said researchers at website Porch.com, which surveyed U.S. homeowners.

Recent battles between Valley homeowners and their HOAs include a woman fighting to keep a small American flag on her painted curbside address, homeowners told to take down too many holiday decorations, and homeowners told to take down an LBGT flag in a window.  

And then there’s the big fight for homeowners to keep their house when HOAs try to foreclosure for as little as $1,200 in missed dues.

What are homeowners associations?

More than half of Arizona residents live in an HOA community. Here is why that matters.

Fines, fines fines

About 30% of poll respondents, who own homes in HOAs communities, said they knew they were breaking an HOA rule, and 52% said they refused to pay fines.

The survey finds the most frequent HOA fines are:

  •  Improper landscaping.
  •  Putting trash out too early or bringing it in too late.
  •  Improper or untimely holiday decorations.   
  •  Owning a pet.
  •  Improperly parked vehicles.
  •  Renting out rooms.
  • Speeding in the neighborhood.
  • Adding a deck, patio or fence.
  • Missed due payments.

Those issues track closely with HOA complaints we hear from Arizona homeowners.

Losing a house to an HOA

But homeowners should be careful about ignoring fines or mandatory dues that are laid out in HOA documents when buying a home. 

In those documents, it states that Arizona law allows an HOA to foreclose after a year of missed payments or a debt of $1,200.

An Arizona Republic investigation found HOAs add legal fees and interest to late payments, and the original debt can more than quadruple in a year.

In 2017, HOAs started foreclosures on a record 3,000 Valley homes for late and missed dues. 

Help for homeowners

The Arizona Department of Real Estate can help homeowners in fights with their HOA over basic disputes such as fines and paint colors but can't intervene in a foreclosure.  

The Arizona Association of Community Managers has said foreclosure should be a last resort for HOAs. It also takes complaints from homeowners. 

Most Americans — about 69% — living in an HOA community say they are satisfied with how their community is managed, according to the poll.

Most appreciate their community association taking care of yards and other maintenance the most. 

The poll, written about by Realtor.com, wasn’t huge with responses from fewer than 1,000 homeowners. But HOA polls aren’t easy to do because there’s no comprehensive directory of all the U.S. community associations.

Housing advocates advise checking out an HOA before moving in because they aren’t regulated in Arizona.

And when a homeowner becomes unhappy with an HOA fine or decision, the battle can become costly.

Reach the reporter at [email protected] or 602-444-8040. Follow her on Twitter @Catherinereagor.

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