Letter: You can fight back against HOAs

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Editor,

My family and I have resided within the Royal Run subdivision in Zionsville for 15 years. We have no desire for conflict with neigborhood residents, for it is they who actually comprise the (homeowners) association itself. Many boards of directors, though, choose to exercise their surprisingly high-responsibility positions rather brazenly, with little accountability.

One of my degrees is in psychology. Using that skill set, I have divided HOA board director personalities into three distinct sets:  Those who truly desire to improve the common areas of neighborhoods and quality of life for residents; those who desire to micromanage the lives and private property of residents to give their own lives meaning; and those who are conflict-averse and blindly follow the leads of the former, powerful property “management” companies and unscrupulous attorneys. Unfortunately for Royal Run and many other HOAs in central Indiana, our board is controlled by the first subset.

Per a story last summer by a local television station, approximately one-sixth of Indiana’s population resides within communities controlled by HOAs. Boards have access to confidential personal information for all of those residents. The potential for misuse/miscommunication of that data by overzealous directors or their agents is enormous (think EquiFax or Facebook) and decentralized across thousands of developments. Many such directors also have “under-the-table” arrangements with investors and contractors to whom they can pass information to acquire vulnerable residents’ properties for cents-on-the-dollar.

What should homeowners do if such a fanatically micromanaging board targets them with a “grievance letter” about an alleged violation of recorded neighborhood covenants and by-laws? What if the “management” company states it is merely “protecting” the interests of the community, despite lack of approved objective standards? Most people are not legal experts. Most are probably too fearful or self-conscious to debate with the wannabe tinfoil dictators, being fearful of direct or subtle retribution.

An October 2012 decision by the Indiana Court of Appeals thankfully rendered the collection of “junk fees” unconstitutional, along with their application in any foreclosure proceedings. In May 2015, then-Gov. Mike Pence signed into law HEA 1286, which is essentially a “freedom of information act” for homeowners within HOA-controlled communities. Upon receipt of a formal “grievance letter” from the board of directors, or even a “reminder letter” from the property “management” company, a homeowner has 10 business days to deny the allegations.

More importantly, homeowners can then request all documentation, minutes, emails, threads, texts, social media snapshots, conversation transcripts, neighbor complaints, etc., about them and their property. Using this information, homeowners can discern true intentions for proposed legal action and even unearth corruption.

HEA 1286 also requires a board to offer to meet with homeowners to attempt resolution or compromise before legal action can proceed. If any requested document is not supplied or is withheld by the board’s legal counsel for nebulous reasons, then the meeting may not occur, and legal action is at an impasse. Even if an attorney files legal action, do not be fearful. Remember, boards are not governing entities with fundamental power over your sovereign property. They are quasi-corporations that require judicial orders before any “corrective action” can be forced. Defendants have the power of discovery to acquire correspondence from wherever directors might have stashed it:  personal accounts, ISPs, employer accounts, social media sites, etc. If documentation is destroyed after the request is made, then criminal charges can be filed. At any time, a homeowner may also review financial documents. Complaints related to fraud and HEA 1286 may be referred to and prosecuted by the Indiana Attorney General Office’s Consumer Division.

Clint Harris, Zionsville

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