AUSTIN (KXAN) - Homeowners Associations, known as HOAs, are multiplying across central Texas. So are the complaints against them.
Nearly 5 million people live in HOAs in Texas, and one out of every four homes built in the state during the last decade is part of one.
But some homeowners said HOAs are out of control and now Texas lawmakers are listening.
A safe, peaceful and appealing neighborhood led Anna Chambliss to buy a home in Pflugerville's Windermere community, but problems began when her roommate's dogs barked at children on the street.
Violation notices arrived from the property manager.
"I said, 'How do I keep my dogs from barking? They're dogs,' and she said, 'You can muzzle them,'” said Chambliss.
More violations followed.
"Trash container not stored, lawn maintenance needed, tall weeds, violation of code -- blah,blah, blah," she said.
Chambliss said she was fined for not mowing a yard where grass didn't even grow.
"Because of that big tree that's there -- it's dirt," she said.
Violations came in the form of certified letters -- which cost her $100 each. Consequently, her HOA fee went from $75 year - to a whopping bill with fines of more than $700.
"I about flipped out because there's no way I can pay that," said Chambliss.
Dana Henderson of Pflugerville knew nothing about HOAs when she moved into the Meadows of Blackhawk neighborhood.
She said she paid her dues on time -- $338 a year.
Then she found out her HOA spent $4,000 to $7,000 dollars a month on a company that provides service to the pool.
"I just couldn't believe that we were paying that much for a pool that isn't much bigger than a residential pool," said Henderson.
But get this: the company that provides that pricey service is owned by a man who used to be the board president at the time the contract began. KXAN investigated, and that kind of deal is not against the HOA rules as long as the company is vetted out properly.
But when Henderson asked about it, she said the board started giving her code violations for converting a garage in her home and operating a day care out of it. She said members had known about it before, but did nothing until she questioned their spending.
"When somebody's trying to intimidate me and threaten my home and retaliate against me, yeah, I'm going to take it as far as I need to take it," said Henderson.
The two parties are now filing suits against each other. The HOA's attorney would not speak about the case.
There are similar stories across the state:
- A Houston HOA sued a U.S. Marine for displaying an American flag in his backyard instead of attached to the house as allowed.
- A Sunset Valley couple has an HOA that denied them from having solar panels installed on the front roof of their home.
"I mean, come on, solar panels," said Texas Civil Right Project attorney Jim Harrington.
Harrington said HOAs have become too powerful and the Legislature hasn't done enough to control them.
"There ought to be that ability so this doesn't become a deconstitutionalized zone. Once you cross into this HOA territory then you have no rights whatsoever. That's crazy, that's un-American, that's un-Texan," said Harrington.
But HOA supporters said their system is working and most neighbors are happy to live in one.
"You purchased into a community association because it had this great swimming pool or this great recreation center, tennis or whatever your interest might be or you jut wanted to know that your property values were going to be protected so you didn't have a car on blocks right next door to you," said Sandra Denton, a spokesperson for Community Associations Institute .
Denton claims cases of HOAs moving to foreclose on members home due to violations or unpaid assessments are extremely rare -- only .5 percent of all cases.
She warned some legislation being proposed would cost associations and homeowners who already follow rules everyone agrees to.
But for homeowners like Dana Henderson, it’s the lack of rules over HOAs that's the problem.
"I've had to pay thousands and thousands of dollars in legal fees for this and still regardless of everything I've been through, I still wouldn't have done it any differently. Somebody has to stop them," said Henderson.
Reformers want several changes including:
- eliminate HOA foreclosure threats to all homeowners in Texas.
- restore homeowners' control of their own property as opposed to HOA boards having "all powers"
- seek justice and equal treatment for Texas homeowners under the Texas and United States Constitutions
- enable a homeowner to have an equal opportunity in any HOA suit to receive an award of attorney fees
- and to make all Texas HOAs subject to The Open Records Act and The Open Meetings Act.
More than a dozen bills have been filed this session that would address many of these issues, but similar legislation did not pass in 2009.
So how do you protect yourself? Get involved. Most HOA meetings are poorly attended, leaving only a few people to make decisions.