Saturday, May 23, 2009


Thursday night we attended a meeting of homeowners for our neighborhood, as we missed the last one back in March. There were a few dozen folks there, and what we thought would be a quick and congenial meet-and-greet turned out to be a two-hour affair that sometimes became loud and argumentative. (When voices got raised I asked James, "How soon can we leave?" and he answered, "What, and miss this show?") In retrospect, I'm glad we went because I learned several things that really opened my eyes about this new neighborhood, and most of it I wished I had known before we bought this house- it may have changed my mind.

We currently have 115 houses occupied, five empty due to death or someone moving, and 47 empty lots- two of which are across the street from us. I've always enjoyed the idea of the empty lots across from us, I get to look out at the woods every day and it's very peaceful and beautiful, filled with a great deal of birdsong and grazing deer and bunnies. I thought, well, when the market picks back up in a few years they will build houses over there and I'll have to put up with the construction noises, but I'll enjoy it while I can. Now I'm not so sure I should be so happy to have the lots there.

Our current HOA is run by the developer and a management group. They have a budget for the lawn maintenance at the front entrances, money to pay for the electricity for the streetlights, etc. Apparently that money is going to run out this fall, so they say, and no one is certain if the developer will cough up more money. And apparently the developer has "lost interest" in this neighborhood and in this area of Georgia (we bought the very last completed brand new house in the neighborhood). No one knows what the future holds for our HOA, or our neighborhood, and that's what the meeting was about- what should we do??

What was scary for me to hear was that the developer is two years in arrears on the taxes for the empty lots!! And if they don't pay them by the first of next year, it will be three years and by some kind of law, the county will take them and auction them off on the courthouse steps. Folks, I don't want to offend anyone with my next statement, so don't take it the wrong way. But what that means is that whoever buys those lots, whether an individual or another developer or the bank- they can come in and build whatever type of house they want- whatever style and whatever size and with whatever type of materials. The house can be completely out of whack with the rest of the neighborhood.

Our meeting was to make a decision based on three actions- do we let things stay the same, do we take over our own HOA, or do we set up an advisory board for now to meet with the developers and management company? It was two to one for the advisory board versus taking over the HOA. I raised my hand and asked, if we take over the HOA, can we put our own restrictions on what can be built on the empty lots (obviously that is my greatest concern)? I was told we would have to change the covenants and that would take some doing.

We pay yearly dues to our HOA, and that is fine, because I like the streetlights and I like our front entrances. But knowing that the "board of directors" are taking their salary from that money, and then leaving our maintenance budget dry, sort of ticks me off. I voted for the advisory board, and we had plenty of volunteers for it. I personally would like to see us take over our own HOA, but I understand the reasoning- no one in the neighborhood has any experience with running one. Our current HOA enforces stupid rules like no trash cans in the driveway (we got a nasty letter about that one), no bird baths in the front yard (!), that kind of crap that I personally think is petty.

So we will see how this develops over the coming months, and I guarantee that from now on we (or at least I) will be going to all of the homeowners meetings in the future.

(photo of the two empty lots across from us- sorry it wasn't sunny yesterday when I took the photos)


  1. Don't your current CCR's define what type and size of home can be built there already? You should make sure you read the entire copy that should have been attached to your title report when you purchased your home (at least in the states I have lived in, and the banks I have worked for require this from the title co.)

    Typically, after the developers move on the neighborhood does elect officials and take over the HOA, including enforcing those rules. All those rules should be in the CCR's.

    Our neighborhood let the HOA go back before we bought, but supposedly the CCR's are still enforceable if we call the police to enforce them. Most people don't unless it's a weed issued or something. We also have the same "trash can" rule - they are not supposed to be visible from the street, but most are. Ours are not.

    Due to the lack of an active HOA here, it is apparent that our neighborhood is "sliding" a little bit. Most people are very conscious of how our neighborhood looks, but a few newbies are not following the practice. For instance, our new neighbor has piles of "stuff" next to her garbage cans - which is between her house and ours, and totally visible from the street. I have to look at it every day. As well as the flatbed trailer, with another smaller flatbed on top of it, that sits in her driveway - right next to our home - visible from the street and our front windows.

    As much as I dislike HOA's, they have a purpose. We have no fees, but I also have no recourse about the "stuff" next door - unless I call the police. Then I have to deal with this neighbor who isn't likely to move anytime soon.....

    My advice to you and your neighborhood is to continue to meet, do your research, ask if your town or community offers eduction programs so that you and your neighbors can learn how to run the HOA - BEFORE you all make a decision. (Our town offers these services since the majority of our neighborhoods have active HOA's)

    As for the lots across the way - are you in a position to purchase one or both, in order to control what goes on there?? Can you contact the bank that holds them and see if they will take an offer? Can you go the the auction and acquire them?? If so, make sure your finances are approved and ready before you do so...

    I was on the board of our HOA in the Portland area for a year prior to moving to Arizona. It was quite an experience. Not bad, but enlightening....

    Hope this rambling helps you somehow! Feel free to contact me if you'd like to keep this on a separate forum.....

  2. I've had HOA's in all three neighborhoods where I've owned a home. The first two were in older, established neighborhoods- no empty lots so no new construction issues- and run by the homeowners. They dealt with mainly nuisance issues- trash cans left at the street three days after garbage day, pets roaming the streets without leashes, speeding cars, etc.

    In our new neighborhood, the management company/developer enforces the rules. Before we bought the house we got an enormous packet for the bylaws, and we certainly tried to read them, but you know at a point with all the legalese your eyes start to blur.

    I saw the part about no birdbaths in the front yard (made me a little miffed but I will comply), we saw the line about no satellite dishes yet everyone has them, we found a line about having your AC units not visible from the streets yet not one house that we've seen has complied with that one.

    We missed the part about the garbage can- we kept it right beside our garage door but yes, it was visible from the street. As soon as we got the letter, threatening us with a fine, we moved it into the garage. No biggie, but the aggressive tone of the letter offended us. It said basically we had seven days to comply and if we didn't they were going to come onto our property, build a fence around our can, then bill us for it!! I thought, yeah, you just try to come onto my property!!

    These letters are not from our neighbors, but from a company. And yes, they police the neighborhood, they have people who drive through once a week.

    We were told at the meeting that anything you want to do to your property- even if it's installing a storm door- you have to get permission from the management company. A bunch of paid strangers who don't even live in the neighborhood.

    And you ARE definitely right, the HOA rules are there to make certain the neighborhood doesn't deteriorate, and that you don't have that one scary house on the block with waist high grass and a rusted car in the yard.

    Part of our meeting addressed the HOA and the letters. The man heading up the meeting brought up the idea that, wouldn't you rather have a friendly knock on the door by a neighbor instead of such an insulting letter? Everyone agreed, and most everyone at the meeting had received such a letter at one time or another about different things.

    The current HOA also levies fines on those who don't comply, and if they aren't paid, they can put a lien on the house. Can you imagine having a lien on your house because you left your garbage can in your driveway???

  3. As for the covenant for new construction, basically what I heard at the meeting- and several people spent a lot of hours on research- was that once it goes to the courthouse steps then whoever buys it can do whatever they want. It did state that a new house would have to be "harmonious" with existing construction. Well, to me that leaves a lot of leeway because that is very open to interpretation. It also states that a house can't be smaller than 1450 s.f., which is okay but the houses in this neighborhood are around 3000+ s.f., so you can see my concern. I hate to say it and I don't want to sound like a snob, but the cold hard facts are that a home like that across the street from me would bring down the value of my house, and we bought this house as an investment for the future (when the market goes back up one day). That is not me being a b*tch, that is what the real estate market dictates. It is actually already happening to neighborhoods in this area when a developer pulls out and another company buys up the empty lots.

    I don't know how much the lots would cost, lots in this subdivision are 1.6 acres, and then there are the back taxes, which we were told was a few grand a piece so far. Yikes. Boy, wouldn't I love to buy them up and put a big ol' garden and green space over there. Dreams, dreams....

    For now, we're going to have the advisory board "learn" what they can from the current management company and developer, then we will probably take over our HOA sometime in the near future. At least, that is the plan for now.

    But thanks for you advice, I really do appreciate it.

    Sorry, this was so long I went over the limit and had to do it in two comments. See, there are even rules on the blog!!

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  6. In my previous HOA's the first action to enforce a rule was always personal, friendly contact by the board. If that failed, a strong letter would be drafted. And yes, if that failed, a harsh letter. Usually we didn't see anything go that far.

    If you all take over after the mgmt company pulls out, you would elect a board and become the authority. The board would then take responsibility to enforce all the rules. In our previous HOA there was an agreement of sorts, as to what was tolerable and what was not. We did not change our CCR's, but some things were granted leeway. Unless someone complained about someones garbage can being in site (or whatever else it might be), it was overlooked. The trouble starts with just one or two neighbors who take it upon themselves to police the neighborhood. We had someone here try to "re-instate" our HOA a few years back and it raised all kinds of ill will in the hood. Especially since this particular person was running a business out of her home - which is strictly forbidden in the CCR's. She took A LOT of heat over that. So, people who live in glass houses should not be hurling the stones!

    The general consensus here, when there was a threat of re-instating the HOA, was that if you are going to enforce one rule, you must enforce all the rules. Otherwise there is a feeling of bias.

    I hope the current mgmt company is willing to work with your advisory board and help them learn what they need to know. As I said, our town has a neighborhood services group that helps with this type of thing. You might want to check into that.

    And yes, the HOA's that we have been part of can determine just about anything, right down to the color you paint your house. There's always something in the news here about HOA's abusing their power, but the bottom line is - if they are given the power in the bylaws and CCR's, then they can do it.

    I do hope you all find a solution. I like your idea of snapping up those two parcels and making a garden or greenway/park like area there! Wouldn't that take the cake!! Do you think your community would go for it? Maybe you can all do it together? Start a community garden and park....

  7. Well there are 47 empty lots, so I would really have to "sell" the idea to buy the ones on MY street, ha ha.

    The current management company is all for us taking over the HOA, they've already told some of the folks in the neighborhood. They've also said they would sit down with a group of the neighbors (the advisory board) and show them what they could.

    In the meeting we did discuss how we would set up an HOA, the officers, the elections, etc. I think it will be coming soon, and I am all for it. I would pay a higher fee (annually right now it's only like $400, and that's not much at all), if I knew we as a neighborhood could work together on maintaining the front entrances, etc. Right now we pay some company about $6000 a year to do it. Wow, why can't we have "clean up day" when neighbors come out and take care of it themselves- it's only a little grass and a few plants.

    As we discussed, we really need neighbors to volunteer who have legal or real estate or business management skills to do an HOA. They sent out surveys last month about doing an HOA, and out of 115 households only 63 replied. So, hopefully when the time comes to start an HOA, everyone would want to get involved 100%.

    The downside is that even though we would be our own HOA, as long as the developer owns those empty lots, he/they still get 47 votes on any issue.

  8. Sandy if you have any kind of deed mrestrictions also known as land covenant you can put amendments to it stating about contruction. Where we live it tells even what pound shingle to put on your roof. I am sure that you could put in the amount of square footage that needed to be built.