John Oliver’s brand of irreverent “investigative comedy” has made Last Week Tonight a hit weekly show for HBO/Max, and in early April the show set its sights on homeowners associations.
Much to the chagrin of a good number of individuals within the community association industry and many of the professionals who serve it, the show presented numerous examples from local news outlets of questionable actions taken against owners or residents on behalf of their HOAs and condominium associations. It painted a fairly horrific picture of associations, describing them as “widely loathed” and accusing them of wielding “surprising power” to “wreak havoc in people’s lives.”
As I and several of our firm’s attorneys have written over the years in this blog, associations have engendered a negative image in the minds of many Americans for broad-range restrictions and overzealous rules enforcement. Reports by local TV stations and newspapers of incidents such as those cited by Oliver seem to have become too common, and it has been suggested on more than one occasion that many communities need to do a better job of ensuring their enforcement decisions and actions are as reasonable, uniform and transparent as possible.
In preparing to write a reflection on the recent segment, we came across an excellent response that we believe bears reading. The op-ed appeared on May 28th in the pages of The Desert Sun daily newspaper covering Palm Springs and the Coachella Valley in California, and it was authored by HOA president David Scott.
After highlighting some of the many benefits of associations, Scott writes:
“That’s not to say that all HOA boards are led by knowledgeable people with the ethics to manage and to keep their focus on the interest and actions to benefit the other homeowners, but we experience the same ethics and decisions from our politically elected officials in our local, state and federal governments. Everyone talks the good talk, but can’t walk the talk once elected.
“The difference being, it’s easier to remove bad board members from an HOA than remove a politically elected official.
“With regards to rules, Mr. Oliver, our society is based on rules and regulations at all levels to avoid disorderly and or harmful conduct and to keep things operating smoothly. Are there consequences for breaking the rules? Yes, and there should be. Living in an HOA helps manage the neighborhood we live in as well as the value of our property. When was the last time you lived in a neighborhood without an HOA and your neighbor’s house was called the “trash house” because of poor taste, overgrown vegetation, delipidated structure, and just plain junk in the yard that can’t be controlled by the city?
“I don’t necessarily like all the rules in life, but we all have choices and voices with our elected officials and the same goes for HOAs. Oh, did I mention that every homeowner also has a choice when purchasing a home? If you don’t like rules, don’t purchase in an HOA. Pretty simple if you ask me.”
Scott goes on to point out that, unlike what the show portrayed, HOAs are not seeking the worst possible outcome for homeowners, and some work with homeowners to provide them with payment plans to catch up when they are behind on dues.
The op-ed is definitely worth reading, and we encourage association directors, members and property managers to click below to access and share it. It is important to keep in mind that the overwhelming number of stakeholders with whom we have worked are well-intended volunteers, managers or property owners who strive to achieve the best results for their respective communities. While ignoring the outliers is not encouraged and efforts should persist to eliminate the negative implications of their actions, we should not allow the bad apples in the community association world to overshadow the many successful experiences most individuals have had with and in their community association.
Click here to read the complete article in the newspaper’s website.