HOA Harassment

10 Replies

I own a rental townhouse that is governed by an HOA (yes, I know many people don't like to buy houses in HOA communities, but where I live there is little choice).When I purchased the home almost 4.5 years ago, the previous owner had removed the groundcover from the small front yard, and planted bushes and flowers and mulched the whole thing—the yard gets little sun and most of the other homes on the row have weeds for the front yard instead of grass. In July of this year I got a note from the HOA saying that we were in violation of the HOA rules and must remove the "unapproved groundcover." Assuming they didn't like the mulched yard, I told them that the groundcover had been there since we bought it and nothing had changed about the yard; they had done an HOA inspection for violations at that time and only told us the trim of the home needed repainting.

To make a long story short, there were many calls and letters and e-mails back and forth for several months about how to make the yard “compliant.”We were told any changes to the yard had to be approved, and that the landscaping did not appear as “robust” as it once had (we had a very harsh winter here last year, and many of the bushes/plants died back—they aren’t dead though, just had to be trimmed down to the ground. It will take a couple of years for them to come back). When asked about how to “become compliant” they said we needed to plant more liriope grass so the yard appeared “greener.”We spent over $100 on plants and made a few trips down to plant, and each time they reinspected they sent us another violation notice saying that we were not in compliance and that they would have to take legal action if we didn’t fix the violation. We just received another notice saying that we had until April 25 to fix the violation.

The thing is, the only thing I can find about landscaping in the HOA docs is a paragraph about keeping your yard free of weeds and trash and all bushes and shrubs trimmed. Nothing about what an approved landscaping is or that your yard must appear "green" instead of brown like they have been telling me. I have asked them repeatedly to point me to the relevant regs and they have not done so. Just wondering how I can get them to stop harassing us and drop the matter. I think they are way out of bounds and very unreasonable ( to put it kindly).I am ready to get a lawyer, but my husband doesn't want to pay anyone to do anything. I think they just don't like rental properties and investors and are trying to make our lives miserable (I would like to point out that our properties are better kept then most of the owner occupied homes on the street). If we did get an attorney, what kind would we get? Any suggestions on how to proceed?

Honestly, the HOA is being unreasonable, but unless you want to spend a LOT of time and money fighting them, just add the grass they have requested

Even if you "win" a battle with them on this, you will have a fight on anything you do,, pick your battles,,,I don't see getting in a battle with the HOA as being one you will win unless you want to throw a LOT of time and effort into it,,easier to spend that effort on another property,

No, don't give in to them. You don't even know that you need a lawyer yet. So far, the HOA is just trying to "scare", "bully", "intimidate" (enter your favorite term here) you into doing what they want.

You've already found there is nothing specific in the HOA rules to do what they are asking. They can not provide that documentation either.

Are they fining you? Or are you just "in violation"?

I would simply send a professional letter to them that you are in compliance according to Section X, Paragraph Y of the HOA manual and state that you have already been flexible and spent over $100 to make them happy. If they still harass you, simply state that you will provide them with your lawyer's information and you can speak with him/her.

Yes, as @Andy Collins  said, sometimes you have to pick your battles, but you've already tried to appease them and they won't stand down. They have no written proof that you're out of compliance. You've spent money for them. They said nothing of this during another inspection when you first bought the place. I wouldn't give in on this. It sounds like you have the upper hand.

Also, I doubt it'd actually go as far as really needing a lawyer. Sometimes you just say you have one and things get dropped. This is because people like to push people around until they finally find their limit. If for some crazy reason this does go that far, I bet you'd not really pay a lot for a lawyer. Plenty of them give free consultations. Lots of them will even write a letter to the problem people for you for either free or a low fee. Call around if needed. Chat with several attorneys.

I get some things aren't worth your time, but this won't actively take a lot of your time. And it really angers me when people push/take advantage of other people just because they're willing do give in. These people need to back off.

Nicole A., New Page LLC | [email protected] | 305‑537‑6252

Originally posted by @Andy Collins :

Honestly, the HOA is being unreasonable, but unless you want to spend a LOT of time and money fighting them, just add the grass they have requested

Even if you "win" a battle with them on this, you will have a fight on anything you do,, pick your battles,,,I don't see getting in a battle with the HOA as being one you will win unless you want to throw a LOT of time and effort into it,,easier to spend that effort on another property,

Yes, normally I am of the "go along to get along" way of thinking, but we have spent a lot of time and money and jumped through lots of hoops trying to appease them, but they won't be appeased. . . and they really are trying to get us to do something that I am convinced we are not even required to do!  We have even asked them specifically to tell us how many plants to plant to plant to stop the threat of "fixing the violation" and putting a lien on our property, as they keep telling us they are going to do.  One person tells us one thing, then another person goes out and inspects and doesn't like what we have done even thought the first person said that should take care of it. 

Originally posted by @Nicole W.:


I would simply send a professional letter to them that you are in compliance according to Section X, Paragraph Y of the HOA manual and state that you have already been flexible and spent over $100 to make them happy. If they still harass you, simply state that you will provide them with your lawyer's information and you can speak with him/her.

Yes, as @Andy Collins  said, sometimes you have to pick your battles, but you've already tried to appease them and they won't stand down. They have no written proof that you're out of compliance. You've spent money for them. They said nothing of this during another inspection when you first bought the place. I wouldn't give in on this. It sounds like you have the upper hand.

Also, I doubt it'd actually go as far as really needing a lawyer. Sometimes you just say you have one and things get dropped. This is because people like to push people around until they finally find their limit. If for some crazy reason this does go that far, I bet you'd not really pay a lot for a lawyer. Plenty of them give free consultations. Lots of them will even write a letter to the problem people for you for either free or a low fee. Call around if needed. Chat with several attorneys.
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I think I will try writing them a letter mentioning the things you have pointed out and mentioning that will seek legal counsel if this goes any further.  I like that idea.

Good luck! Please keep us posted.

Is this property in Vienna, VA? If so, I'm sorry to hear that. :-)

Nicole A., New Page LLC | [email protected] | 305‑537‑6252

No, it's in Prince William County. I actually live in a place not governed by an HOA...thank God.

I'm on the condo board where I live, and we do our best to work with the residents. Are you dealing with a management company or actual board member(s)? We keep records and document all communication, via our management company. My husband and I also own condos in Florida, and one of the complexes is run by what we call "condo commandos". They actually have people walking around looking for violations....not the best use of our maintenance fees. 

After the 2nd or 3rd notice to my tenants to stop doing something that they (or I) had no idea was not allowed, I started calling the board president and asking for documentation for each violation. Once they realized they had to spend time to look things up, make copies for me, and in some cases, explain that it wasn't an actual violation, things have calmed down. The next board election will reflect my feelings about this.

I would suggest you document everything, every date, and the names of anyone you speak to, and let the board know you will be copying your attorney if they're not able to provide you with specifics. Most reasonable boards will not want to spend the money on attorney's fees. You may also consider either running for the board, or voting out those that do not have the owner's best interests in mind.

Originally posted by @Aly L:

I'm on the condo board where I live, and we do our best to work with the residents. Are you dealing with a management company or actual board member(s)? We keep records and document all communication, via our management company. My husband and I also own condos in Florida, and one of the complexes is run by what we call "condo commandos". They actually have people walking around looking for violations....not the best use of our maintenance fees. 

After the 2nd or 3rd notice to my tenants to stop doing something that they (or I) had no idea was not allowed, I started calling the board president and asking for documentation for each violation. Once they realized they had to spend time to look things up, make copies for me, and in some cases, explain that it wasn't an actual violation, things have calmed down. The next board election will reflect my feelings about this.

I would suggest you document everything, every date, and the names of anyone you speak to, and let the board know you will be copying your attorney if they're not able to provide you with specifics. Most reasonable boards will not want to spend the money on attorney's fees. You may also consider either running for the board, or voting out those that do not have the owner's best interests in mind.

After looking on the association website, the people I have been dealing with are the actual employees of the association (not the board members).  I just sent a somewhat friendly e-mail reply stating politely that the previous documentation they sent me of the covenant I am supposedly in violation of says only that my yards and landscaping must be neatly trimmed, maintained and free of weeds and debris....it says nothing about the type of groundcover or the amount of green vegetation that must be present.  I will wait and see what they say before playing my attorney card.....

As the president of my Homeowners Association, I understand how complex and overbearing HOAs can be to the individual, and as an owner of a construction company--I understand how unfair and political HOA Boards can be at times. More often than not, it leaves the individual feeling isolated, abused, and voiceless.

Something to consider is when this type of stuff is happening to you chances are it happening to everyone.   It's just happening to one person at a time.  

Homeowner association can be polarizing.   Hate them, love them, each camp thinks the other is the problem.  What the we all fail to recognize is rout of the problem: The human factor.

That is why I created RatemyHOA.org.  I truly believe the corporate nature and dullness of an HOA disregards individual's emotion and opinions. HOAs can be unfair and at time absent from a system of checks and balances. As a result, this website will focus on five key elements:

(1) Create a place where individual homeowners can gather, voice their opinion, and rate their community.
(2) Provide tools to fight abusive Boards whom overreach their power.
(3) Provide Homeowners Associations, who receive bad ratings, tools to change their image.
(4) Educate the individual Member and the Board about each other’s rights, roles, and responsibilities.
(5) Promote change from within, when necessary.

Most importantly, I want the conversation to begin.

Kip