'Stop the nonsense': Lawmakers in one state move to give homeowners more rights in HOA disputes

Lawmakers in Georgia are taking aim at homeowners associations after hearing horror stories from residents who have been fined, sued and threatened with foreclosure.

"It's not just here in Georgia. It's all over, and it's a national problem right now," state Sen. Donzella James told Fox News Digital. "It's just Georgia is one that people are furious over some of the things that's happening."

SMALL BUSINESSES ACCUSE MISSOURI CITY OF FORCING THEM OUT WITH BASELESS BLIGHT LABEL TO SCORE LUCRATIVE DEAL

More than 20% of the Peach State's population lives in neighborhoods governed by community associations, according to 2021 data from the Foundation for Community Association Research. The foundation estimated HOAs collect almost $3.2 billion each year from Georgia residents.

Dues payments can cover shared facilities like gyms and pools, as well as maintenance, and HOAs can fine homeowners if they violate association covenants or fall behind on their dues.

James noted that HOAs began as a way to improve "quality of life" in communities. But homeowners across the state have complained that their associations unfairly hit them with fines, cut off their water after they fell behind on dues and even foreclosed on their homes.

READ ON THE FOX NEWS APP

"There are some predatory HOA fees and they have nothing to control them," James, a Democrat representing Atlanta, said. "And so our biggest problems with that is that people are being … abused and losing their homes over petty things."

WATCH MORE FOX NEWS DIGITAL ORIGINALS HERE

One woman told lawmakers she faced a $25,000 lien after installing a rock garden in her yard, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported late last year. A realtor said a client was threatened with $84,000 in arbitrary fines, which dropped to just $600 after they got a lawyer.

"Most people don’t have that extra $5,000 for an attorney," the realtor testified.

This spring, the state legislature overwhelmingly passed House Bill 220 requiring community associations to notify a home or condo owner in writing of any covenant violations and give them time to fix them before pursuing legal action. That law takes effect July 1.

The Senate also passed a resolution creating a study committee to look into HOA rules and potentially pass more legislation protecting property owners. James, a Democrat, pushed the bill for two years before it finally passed, now with bipartisan support.

"We want to make sure that we just stop the nonsense, take care of the people and not put people out of their dream homes," James said.

But other bills that would have created an ombudsman's office to investigate HOA and homeowner disputes, as well as strip HOAs of their ability to foreclose on homes once a member owes $2,000 or more, failed to pass this year.

Tricia Quigley lost her home of nearly two decades after a prolonged battle over dues payments. Attorney fees and interest spiraled out of control, so even after she paid the original debt, she was thousands of dollars in the hole.

Her HOA foreclosed on her house and bought it for $3.24 at auction, according to an 11Alive investigation.

"I don't even know when I'm going to be able to retire now," Quigley told Fox News Digital. "I can't buy another house. It just has totally changed my life."

Foreclosure Home For Sale Real Estate sign in front of house.
Georgia law allows HOAs to put a lien on a member's home and file for foreclosure as soon as they owe $2,000. House lawmakers plan to refile a bill next year that would take foreclosure off the table.

GEORGIA SQUATTERS UNSHAKEN BY RECENT LAW CHANGE, RETURN TO ATLANTA HOME: 'THEY DON'T RESPECT THE LAW'

Julie Howard, an Atlanta-based attorney who represents homeowner and condominium associations, said there are already "due process" requirements before HOAs can foreclose on a home.

"The governing documents are there for the benefit of everyone in the community and the owners elect the members of the board of directors that enforce … the documents that everyone agrees to abide by when they buy in the community," Howard said.

And when people don't abide by those rules, their HOA is entitled to levy late fees, fines and even foreclose on members' homes under the Georgia Property Owners' Association Act — drafted in part by one of the main Atlanta law firms that represents HOAs.

Howard said residents are usually allowed to request a hearing before their HOA board to challenge fines and that owners should be notified every step of the way.

"It’s just not possible for someone to have been foreclosed upon out of the blue under Georgia law," she said.

James' colleagues in the state House have already announced plans to refile their version of the bill that would bar HOAs from foreclosing on homes because of unpaid fees.

"My commitment has always been to ensure that property owners have their rights safeguarded and that we foster a fair and transparent system," Rep. Viola Davis said in a May news release. "The end results must protect the American Dream of Homeownership."

Davis and her two co-sponsors, all Democrats, hope to get the bill to a vote when the legislature returns to session in January.


Original article source: 'Stop the nonsense': Lawmakers in one state move to give homeowners more rights in HOA disputes

Advertisement