Hawaii has the largest number of Homeowner’s Associations (HOA) per capita than other state. In these structured communities, residents agree when purchasing their homes to follow certain rules to ensure a certain quality of life is maintained for residents. They pay monthly fees to maintain amenities like, common areas, landscaping and pools, also other expenses, including hiring lawyers to enforce the rules. Governing body of HOA is the Association Board made up of residents elected to their position and to act in the community’s best interest. These communities, are only as good as the members elected to the Boards. Run well and responsibly, neighborhoods become everything residents desire and more. Run poorly, abuse can occur.
An increasing number of instances nationwide where these Boards, hiding behind the excuse of enforcing the rules, have abused their powers, often times targeted the elder members of their community, using harassment, confusion, shame and fear in order to financially bully them.
One example, when Walter (not his real name) returned home from a trip, he discovered in his mailbox letters from his HOA Board, fining him for not maintaining his lawn — an HOA violation. Since he was comfortable speaking up at previous Board meetings, he ignored the correspondence with the intent of explaining the circumstances of his trip at the next meeting. Before the next meeting, he received a letter from an attorney the Board hired, threatening legal action if Walter didn’t pay not only the original fine, but also the legal expenses the lawyer charged to write the letter. Walter found himself not only the target of the Board that didn’t appreciate his outspokenness, but the subject of a lawsuit demanding thousands of dollars in unreasonable legal expenses.
Actions that can be taken to minimize harm done and protect yourself and home.
If you are being treated unfairly by a HOA:
- Learn your HOA’s rules and the consequences.
- Know what fee’s you’ve agreed to pay for.
- Know how fee increases are set, how often they occur, how much is in the HOA’s reserve fund, and the operating expenses and the budget.
If you feel abuse is occurring:
- Keep records: document abuses and keep all your correspondences with your HOA.
- The worst thing is refusing to pay HOA fees and not telling your reasons — the risk is foreclosure.
Call the Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs at 586-2643.
- Seek out legal advice from an attorney specializing in defending homeowners from HOA; depending on your circumstances, they may take the case on contingency (pay if you win).
To report suspected elder abuse, contact the Elder Abuse
Unit at: 808-768-7536 | ElderAbuse@honolulu.gov