■ Matt McPherson / Contributed
Recently some situations here in the valley have presented some positives and negatives when living in a community governed by a Homeowners Association (HOA). Originally HOAs were created to enhance the “quiet enjoyment” of a neighborhood, usually within a senior development. Here in the valley, two separate senior parks have experienced differing approaches in dealing with concerns within their association.
One position taken by a senior park in San Jacinto (American Village) has been to enforce every offense and restriction from the state level down to the local Covenants, Codes and Restrictions (CC&Rs) and bylaws implemented at the community park level. Some residents feel the HOA has overstepped its authority and is bordering on elder abuse when implementing and enforcing some of the rules, restrictions and bylaws. Another differing approach has been with the senior park in Hemet (Valle Hermosa) where many say the CC&Rs and bylaws are not being enforced at all. Both extremes within these parks seem to be affecting the “quiet enjoyment” of the communities by its elder inhabitants.
Bob Pratte’s articles about the abrupt removal of the once beautiful community garden within American Village triggered a surge of controversy from many residents within the park. The 211-home senior development’s HOA demanded the garden in the common area be uprooted and replaced with a horseshoe pit and a large slab of concrete covered in picnic tables, which are chained together. The reasoning being that the community needed a location to gather in case of emergencies, also to serve as a heliport. According to residents of the park, the chained tables and proximity to a large block wall doesn’t allow the necessary space for a heliport. The board’s rationale for removing the beautiful and prosperous vegetable and fruit garden was a fear of potential health issues from the organic produce. HOA President Eileen Wynn explained that amenities such as a horseshoe pit would lure new residents into the community.
Residents within the park claim the horseshoe pits sit unused with empty tables atop a sterile concrete slab. The garden, which flourished for 16 years, was attended to daily and served as a central location for the inhabitants of the park to gather and socialize. Bob Pratte’s article back in 2014 quoted Wynn: “This is what is best for the association. This is not my decision alone. It is a board of directors’ decision. I have one vote.” Wynn continued: “There are lovely people who live here, whether they agree or disagree. Our goal is to make it better for emergencies.”
Park resident Joyce Waltz Newsom says she has experienced numerous conflicts with the HOA and its president while trying to pursue the “quiet enjoyment” of her home and community. Newsome says she had to actually file a police report after political signs in her yard were removed and placed in the trash. Newsom also explained that a campaigning city council member was chased out of the park by an HOA board member’s spouse.
Most recently a questionable purchase and sale of a property within the park by the HOA board has caught the attention of many community residents. The property was purchased by the board for $10,000; then the board paid property taxes and attorney fees only to turn around and sell it for $5,000. The new owner has marketed the property at $112,000. Considering the financial loss to the board and the massive profit the new owner stands to make over the sale of the property, some investigating seems necessary. Issues such as these are representative of HOA boards that overstep their authority and border on elder abuse, obviously affecting the “quiet enjoyment” of the neighborhood, residences, and common areas.
Conversely, another senior park in the valley, Valle Hermosa, enforces almost nothing, according to many residents and owners. Valle Hermosa is a 55+ housing community located in Hemet with 1,046 individual properties, 76 percent of which are owned by non-owner occupied units (rentals). In parks such as Valle Hermosa, when 25 percent or more of the properties are non-owner occupied, you run into an indifference of strength of the HOA. Owners only concerned with rental income compromise the integrity of the governing boards. Unlike American Village, Valle Hermosa has and owns no common areas, which allows less responsibility on what they govern. CC&Rs and bylaws are the only things they have to enforce. Valle Hermosa former board member John Gardella recently resigned as the treasurer over his frustration that the rules were not being properly enforced.
“With an HOA with little or few owner-occupied units, there is little or no respect for the HOA governing documents (federal, state, and HOA rules) where the board consists mainly of investors who are [only] interested in getting a rent check with no interest in the long term integrity of the HOA,” pointed out Gardella. “On the other end, where the HOA has a vast majority of owner occupants, you run into an HOA who rules over and beyond the governing documents and will try to stifle the rights of individual homeowners.”
According to residents and owners in Valle Hermosa, the 55+ rules are not being enforced. A reasonable time frame expectation for grandkids and visitors during extended stays are to be regulated although rarely are they enforced. If the occupants under the age of 55 are disabled, they are allowed to occupy the property with a letter from a health professional. Another allowance exists if the underage occupant is a licensed caretaker or nurse for the elderly inhabitant.
“A drive by of this community will show the lack of enforcement of the governing documents by the unmaintained exterior fence,” said Gardella. “The exterior fence is to be maintained by the owners, who are responsible for the upkeep. The nonconforming fence is falling apart and has holes in some places, which occupants claim is affecting the appearance of the park and its integrity.”
One reason this seemingly simple task of upkeep is that the community has a high number of underage occupants and nuisance properties, said Gardella.
“Because of the very high percentage of non-owner properties, the voter turnout is only about 22 percent, with only a handful of people showing up for the periodic HOA meetings and the governing board consisting mainly of non-owner occupied individuals,” he added.
Another problem, especially with 55+ housing communities, is that many of the occupants are not willing to go on record to file and follow through with violations of governing regulations. Owners and tenants need to be educated in their community responsibilities and the governing regulations. Prospective owners and tenants can obtain the owner/non-owner occupied percentage, prospective owners can obtain governing documents and recent HOA meetings minutes, and owners can obtain a mailing list of all owners in their HOA.
The Davis-Stirling Common Interest Development Act, which governs planned unit developments, condominiums, and cooperative communities, was authored by Assemblyman Larry Stirling and enacted in 1985 by the California State Legislature. Since then, as more and more problems and issues with HOAs emerge, the Act was recodified and comprehensively reorganized in 2012 and again in 2014. Recently, Larry Stirling teamed up with the law firm Adams-Kessler, which is now Adams-Stirling. This law firm represents HOA corporations in reference to the “quiet enjoyment” of property. Many say this is a conflict of interest considering Stirling authored the bill he now gains clientele from.
HOAs, especially those in senior parks, are a very controversial topic that requires much discussion and feedback. I plan on revisiting these issues with HOAs in the weeks and months ahead as more owners and residents provide their concerns and suggestions. Please contact me if you have concerns or issues with your HOA here in the valley, as it appears to be a very popular topic.