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Dealing with the all-powerful HOA

Before buying that gorgeous North Carolina home, potential buyers should carefully check out the homeowners association should one exist. HOAs exert a lot of power in our state, and some have a tendency to run amok when dealing with the homeowners whom they are theoretically there to serve.

News stories abound about the difficulties various homeowners encounter with their HOAs. Last year, WBTV ran the story of a homeowner who simply wanted to get a copy of his HOA's financial documents to find out why his quarterly dues had been raised from $60 to $75 and how HOA board members actually spent HOA monies. By law, HOAs must make their financial documents available to homeowners who request them. After seven months of unanswered phone, email and snail mail requests, however, this homeowner still had no HOA financial documents.

Plum shutters

Just this spring, ABC11 News reported an even more outrageous HOA story about a woman who painted her shutters plum. Big mistake on her part. First she got a letter from her HOA saying she had not received prior approval from them regarding her color choice. When she belatedly asked for approval, however, they refused to grant it, regardless of the fact that none of her neighbors objected to her color choice.

Her problems were just beginning. The HOA began fining her $25 for each day she did not repaint her shutters an "approved" color. Ultimately she paid over $1,000 in fines before simply removing the "offensive" shutters. In an astonishing catch-22 turn of events, however, the HOA than began fining her for removing her shutters without permission.

Eventually the woman and 14 neighbors banded together and, per state law, signed a petition requesting a special HOA meeting, only to receive letters from the HOA's attorney threatening personal lawsuits and restraining orders if they pursued their attempts. Ultimately the homeowners won, got their special meeting and ousted the sitting HOA board. The new management team approved reinstallation of the woman's shutters, but only if she painted them a darker shade of plum, which she did.

Do the homework

While both of these situations seem extraordinarily petty at best, they serve to illustrate how difficult a homeowner's life can become when his or her HOA runs amok. Experts recommend that before buying a home overseen by an HOA, the potential buyer thoroughly read and understand the following HOA documents:

  • Articles of incorporation
  • Bylaws
  • Declaration of covenants

These are the three main documents that govern how any given North Carolina HOA can and presumably will operate.

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