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Saturday, November 1, 2014

Quail Hollow Community Association threatens homeowners

I was thrilled to read that along South Carolina's coast, folks from the Grand Strand are targeting state lawmakers with complaints about the way "homeowners associations" are being run. These folks have lots of company, not only in South Carolina, but all across the nation: "Over the past decade, a citizen movement has grown to curb the power of homeowner associations, which remain largely unregulated." As the economy spirals downward, expect a barrage of shenanigans aimed at making you hand over your hard-earned dollars to these gangs, along with the businesses involved when you're forced to alter your property to comply with inane, unceasing "amendments" to regulations. What it amounts to, as the above-referenced article points out, is state-sanctioned racketeering: "Homeowner associations first took off in the 1970s as local governments looked for a way to offload costly services, such as snow removal and road repair. Municipalities have encouraged their growth since through tax incentives and zoning laws." Raising taxes is risky political business. Better to quietly pass numerous costs along to homeowners. Note: My 11/6/14 blog post targets the cozy relationship twixt government and HOAs.   

My neighborhood - Quail Hollow, West Columbia, South Carolina, Lexington County - is a case in point.

Folks are sick and tired of being harassed by the Quail Hollow Complainers - er I mean Community - Association. I've lived in Quail Hollow for about 35 years, and supported the gang - with misgivings - for most of that time, even though dues were not mandatory. Several years ago, I decided that the Association is nothing more than a high-falutin' social club run by busybodied troublemakers, and to invest my money elsewhere. As things now stand, only about half the neighborhood - about 150 households - joins.

If any one thing confirmed the correctness of my decision, it was the installation of two traffic circles (roundabouts) along Ephrata Drive, unfailingly highlighted in the Association's newsletter, nary an objection raised. Not that there had been vehicle accidents to justify the undertaking. The roundabouts resulted from plain, old-fashioned stupidity on the part of not only the Association, but also Lexington County's political powers. What a wasteful, annoying, and dangerous mess the roundabouts turned out to be. Initially, the intersections were tampered with by adding obnoxious "all way" stops. But alas. That failed to produce accidents, so the next step was installing roundabouts.

County workers couldn't even install 'em correctly. Had to tear one out and start over (not to worry, what's an additional waste of taxpayer money?), and still wound up with something that poses an obstacle to emergency vehicles, school buses, and anyone who needs to negotiate the intersection with a trailer. Entering the roundabouts - visibility is poor, right-of-way iffy - is downright scary. County "leaders" who mandated this idiocy were not deterred by the fact that the intersections are way too small for such contraptions in the first place.

But the real punch line to the joke isn't the least bit funny. An unfortunate out-of-towner ran her car smack dab into a newly-installed roundabout one night, and it's rumored the car was totalled. Indeed, the driver was lucky her vehicle didn't explode. Not hard to understand. When ya start buildin' obstacles in the middle of a road, it doesn't take a genius to figute out what's probably gonna happen. Voila - at long last, the much sought after, serious accident finally occurred. For a long time thereafter, blinking lights and warning signs were placed around the roundabout, ringing the ol' cash register once again at taxpayer expense. And the Association? It wuz suddenly afflicted with a "roundabout silence" that spoke volumes. If asked, the Association will now say it had nothing to do with the roundabouts being built, which, of course, is technically correct. To say the roundabouts are a sore point in the neighborhood is an understatement.

Then there's the matter of homeowners' dogs that ran loose all over the neighborhood for years. Some had a nasty habit of runnin' into the street at you, teeth bared, then chargin' from behind the minute you turned your back. At least one person was severely bitten, yet all the Association ever did was timidly mention the problem in newsletters, and presumably contacted one homeowner directly, to no avail. Being wunna the residents who frequently walks the area for exercise, I finally filed numerous, formal complaints with Lexington County Animal Control to get the problem resolved. Kinda strange when a neighborhood association can't even deal with violations of leash laws.

Other obnoxious behavior from the Association includes attacking a homeowner over a small, decorative fence around a mailbox. The gang's mindless, Orwellian battle cry was "Regulations prohibit fences in front yards." The gang took similar action against property owners who dared to install quaint, wooden "corner" fences. Dangerous dogs? Relax. But put a picket fence around a mailbox, and the gang is up in arms. Speaking of mailboxes, the rules-obsessed Association has been known to violate federal law by having volunteers use mailboxes to distribute newsletters and announcements. And I'm appalled at the mess the Association has made in the neighborhood park. Used to be a couple of narrow little streams running across a dirt trail through the woods. Pretty. Easily negotiated. So the Association bombarded the trail with gravel - making it upleasant to walk on - and put canvas "linings" - topped with more gravel - into the streams. But water is pesky. Doesn't like being ordered around, and now we have bonafide eyesores, 'specially when the streams are dried up. And when there's water, one of the streams is now too wide to easily get across. The Association's next "project" will probably be an expensive bridge. Fact is, short of special events, hardly anyone uses the park. But that didn't prevent the illustrious Association from forking over big bucks to have not one, but two brightly colored metal seats installed, set in concrete. Never mind that there were already benches galore that go with the picnic tables. And then of course there's the glare from lightpoles, ruining the natural splendor of dusk and the glow of fireflies. Wow. Talk about wasting money.

In my case - and perhaps that of others - the Association's annual pig-pickin' is especially repulsive. Festivities revolve around factory-farmed, cruelty-laced "food" that I certainly don't wanna pay for or promote. Much less eat. Likewise for ice-cream socials that pander to the horrors of factory-farmed dairy products.

No well-informed person buys property in a neighborhood that has legal authority to set and collect association fees from homeowners. I got that advice from an attorney who specializes in homeowner associations. He said such groups usually wind up charging exorbitant membership dues, and contract with their business friends for unnecessary services.

As one might guess, the Association is not happy with that half of the 'hood that wants nothin' to do with 'em. Past several years, the Association has been threatening and cajoling residents into forking over membership dues. Easy to ignore until the Association's latest stunt, comprised of a loudly proclaimed "amendment," supposedly forcing dues-payin' membership on all residents. Thrown in for good measure, folks with back yard cyclone fences extending from the sides of their houses have been ordered to have that portion removed or replaced. No, there were no such requirements when the vast majority of folks bought their property. Meanwhile, the Association has filed intimidating paperwork at the Lexington County Courthouse, which may deter folks from buying property in Quail Hollow. Goodness knows, the roundabouts are reason enough to avoid the area, and now the Association is demanding not only membership dues, but also "late payment" penalties, complete with a promise to file liens against residents who refuse to acquiese. Apparently, an underlying objective is to acquire peoples' homes by quietly filing liens and arranging sales for a fraction of what properties are worth. Worse than a schoolyard bully.

What it boils down to, if something is a good deal, ya don't have to force folks to support it. A fellow who lives on my street summed the situation up quite well. He said there are two kinds of people: those who like to tell other people what to do, and those who like being told what to do. Neither of us are in either category.

There's a name for what's going on with homeowners associations and their friends in state legislatures. It's called tyranny, and it's incredibly encouraging that more than a thousand homeowners took a stand at last Wednesday's meeting in Horry County: "Those attending had a variety of complaints concerning homeowners groups including that association governing boards change rules at will, don't take homeowners' concerns seriously and are arbitrary in enforcing rules."

Stay tuned.

Update 11/2/2014 - VIDEO of irate homeowners  from along South Carolina's Grand Strand at last Wednesday's meeting in Horry County. Here's a link to April Baker's complete report

Update 11/3/2014 - As South Carolina wakes up to the horrors of homeowners associations, a TV station in Nevada presents the "HOA Hall of Shame" on their website.

Update 11/5/2014 - Folks all across the country are organizing opposition to HOAs. Found a GREAT website in Texas that tracks various actions in other states, including a link to an article about the meeting in Horry County.

Update 4/9/2016 - The Quail Hollow Community Association's latest stunt - underscoring how they delight in wasting money - was to send threatening letters "Certified - Receipt Requested" to those of us who refuse to be intimidated into handing over membership dues.  

Update 7/25/2016 - The Quail Hollow Community Association has mailed out its standard dues demand, complete with a $25 late fee for every year a homeowner has declined to hand over the moolah, calculated from the time the gang suddenly determined that dues are mandatory.