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Leah Lally, a 51-year-old homeowner in Tampa, Fla., learned the hard way that dealing with a homeowners association (HOA) can escalate into a costly and years-long legal battle.
In 2015, Lally got nearly $700 behind on the $135-a-month association fees on her five-bedroom home. She explained to the association’s management that she faced financial hardship while caring for her sick parents and asked to work out a payment plan. The management company that contracts with her homeowners association told her it would take the issue to the association board.
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But two months later, as Lally waited for a response, she got a letter from a law firm saying that a lien had been filed on her home.
Lally decided to fight. More than three years later, Lally’s HOA claims she owes nearly $15,000 — about $10,000 of that from attorney fees, interest and other charges.
“I refuse to bend because it’s not right,” says Lally, whose court case is ongoing. “It’s cruel that they are aiming to put me out of my home.”
There are more than 345,000 community associations (or CAs, a term that includes homeowners associations, condo associations and co-ops) in America today, compared with just 10,000 in 1970. Almost 1 in every 4 Americans belong to a CA, according to the Community Associations Institute.
The volunteer-governed organizations, which regulate everything from holiday decorations to grass height, enforce rules and protect residents’ property values.
The number of community associations in the United States grew from 10,000 in 1970 and 222,500 in 2000 to 344,500 in 2017.
While members have long bridled at CA restrictions and fees, an industry survey shows that as many as 85 percent of residents are neutral or positive about their association.
But homeowners who wind up in conflict with their CA say the organizations have a dark side.