Homeowner associations, also known as HOAs, are formed as part of the development process in many U.S. housing developments. Initially controlled by the developers, they are typically passed along to community control by the neighborhood's homeowners at some point during the build-out and sale of the community's homes. Depending on the state, HOAs may be subject to official regulation and a highly developed common law tradition, or may operate with few restrictions and little oversight. In South Carolina, according to a series of reports in the Myrtle Beach Sun News published under the general heading "HOA Life," HOAs have considerable power and not much accountability—and that's causing complaints from some homeowners (see: "Group of six is raising numerous issues at Azalea Lakes," "'I know you won't believe this'," "Being labeled a complainer could be something to celebrate," and "A spreading mantra: 'There ought to be a law'," all by Steve Jones).
Complaints are widespread, the Sun Times notes—but, the paper says, there's also a case to be made that most complaints come from a relatively small handful of persistent malcontents. Still, the complainers may have a point. The paper cites the example of Jean Cavanaugh and Jan Benton, residents of a Myrtle Beach community called Azalea Lakes, who are identified as complainers by HOA managers. But is their beef legitimate? "They say, for instance, that the homeowners association meets privately and that getting information on those meetings can be next to impossible," the paper reports. "They also said the association has not been forthcoming with the development's financial records, and when some are issued, they couldn't possibly be right."
Or there's the issue raised by Steve Houser, a resident of the Glenmoor development near Conway, South Carolina. "Houser's main complaint is the power that South Carolina gives to a subdivision's developer, known legally as a declarant," reports the Sun News. "He wouldn't have bought in Glenmoor if he'd seen copies of the master document and covenants and codicils prior to closing. They said the developer would have nine votes on community matters while residents had just one. For Houser, that doesn't work, especially when the residents collectively have a greater financial stake in the development than does the developer."
"To me it's unfathomable how much power developers have," says Houser.
Homeowner complaints fall into a handful of typical categories, county and state officials told the paper:
"--They don't like seeing the association's costs, and therefore their dues, go up for no logical reason.
--They don't like the nearly dictatorial powers developers have over their property, and by extension, them.
--They feel that favoritism is shown to some residents while others may face retribution for speaking out.
--They think that their association boards or declarants are not acting legally and they have no recourse but to hire an attorney to file a civil lawsuit.
--They can't get information about the association's finances.
--Their boards meet and make decisions in private.
--They can't get minutes of meetings."
One use a homeowner association can make of its powers in South Carolina is Stifling dissent. Reports the Sun News: "Because of questions, the Azalea Lakes board said Benton and other residents were harassing them. The board didn't like hearing the same questions repeatedly and adopted a rule that forbids harassment of board members. Harassing is defined as 'to annoy persistently.' The board decides who steps over the line and may issue a $50 fine for each occurrence."