ONLY ON KOLD: Who's watching the HOAs? - Tucson News Now

ONLY ON KOLD: Who's watching the HOAs?

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TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) -

Homeowner associations get accused of being too strict or doing nothing at all.  How to hold anyone accountable leaves many neighbors scratching their heads or turning red in the face.

Sometimes situations break down and measures go to extremes.

Years ago, a vandal struck the sign of Northridge Villas, a foothills neighborhood.  But it was the work of a man who lived there.

"It was one of the most nicest, pleasantest things I ever done in my life," said Jessie Gallaher.

He said the wall with the sign was on his land, even though the homeowner association said that it had been taking care of the sign for decades.  In turn for leaving it there, Gallaher wanted a break on homeowner's fees from the association.  When the association refused, and said the sign was theirs, his graffiti proved otherwise.  And he won in court.

Or did he?

He moved out afterward, and cited further disagreements he didn't want to take on.

"I won, but in a way, I lost, and I think they feel that they lost also," Gallaher said.

"People are struggling to do the right thing because we all know we bought in here because we know we wanted things protected.  We didn't want people parking the car in the front yard and all those things," said neighbor Ken Scoville.  He pointed out that HOA board members are fellow homeowners and act as volunteers instead of trained attorneys.

"I think homeowner's associations need a place to go to really verify and get guidelines," Scoville said.

Ideas where they should get guidance ranges from regulation by a state agency to letting the industry police itself with something like the Community Associations Institute.

"Having an organization like that, a national organization like that, that is able to draw from the different states, the problems that exist in different states, to put together those standards is something already in existence," said Michael Shupe, president of the southern Arizona chapter of the Community Associations Institute.

"Self-regulation sometimes works in some industries generally speaking, with homeowners' associations, it doesn't," said attorney Stephen Weeks, who represented Mr. Gallaher in court.

Here's how HOA's can be structured:

Homeowners elect an association board.  It can then hire a management company to enforce the rules back on the homeowners.

But there's no specific licensing for those companies either, and it's another source of disagreement.

Those in the industry fear  that registration would only mean paying fees to the state.

"Manager, owner, anything like that, can contact Community Associations Institute and file a complaint against a manager whom they feel may not be acting in accordance with the ethical standards for management," Shupe said.

"No, because most HOAs do not look at that information before they hire.  They hear a name that's been in a previous neighborhood," Weeks said.

One thing everyone agreed about: education for board members.  Whether that would be required by law or encouraged by the industry is another matter.  Until an answer is found, residents and their boards are encouraged to at least communicate as much as possible, before another situation like Jessie Gallaher's breaks down.

"I just don't like it anymore, so I decided that I'd get out," he said.

Not all HOA management companies even agree that CAI should represent the industry, which still leaves that question how you know you're getting a good company.  Companies managed by realtors can then be registered with the Department of Real Estate.

But those volunteer board members must still do their homework.  Management companies can offer the board that hired them additional training and even literature on what rules exist for HOAs.

Some management companies cited current court proceedings with a former manager in the southern Arizona chapter of CAI as reason to not consider the institute as representative of the industry.  But where to turn for referrals then remains a challenge.

Weeks points out that currently, if the person who provides management services for an HOA is also a licensed Realtor, then they are bound by the Department of Real Estate to not make false claims about services.  Such a qualification can be one feature to seek when shopping for a management company.

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