Homeowners association an unwelcome, possibly illegal surprise

By Charles Carter McClatchy-Tribune News Service

Question: About five years ago, we purchased a home in a subdivision that was still being developed. At the time, there was no homeowners association formed. When we pursued this with the developer, he indicated that one might formed at some point. To make a long story short, the subdivision has not been developed according to plan, and the developer did not follow through with what was promised to the owners. He has since sold his share to another developer.

In February, we received an invoice from a homeowners association that we did not know existed, requesting payment of annual homeowner dues by March 1. After visiting with our neighbors, no one else was aware that a homeowners association had been formed, and none of us have had any input into this association. All of the owners in this subdivision are equally dissatisfied with broken promises and the lack of follow-through by the builder and his successor.

My question is: Are we legally bound to pay dues to a homeowners association we knew nothing about? Several homeowners have already sold their properties because of their dissatisfaction with the original developer, but we cannot afford to sell.

— Edna Nelson, Yukon, Okla.

Answer: Subdivision control ordinances often contain provisions to protect consumers from developers who don’t keep their promises. Under one form, developers are required to complete all infrastructure prior to house construction or sale of lots. Under another, the builder must post a performance bond. Question the city or county authorities about this, and ask the lender that gave the developer his development and construction loan.

Your problem is causing a big stir around the country, so please ask a local real estate lawyer about the particulars of your situation — I’m not licensed to practice law in Oklahoma. Ask city or county authorities too. States may differ.

From what you’ve told me, it sounds likely there were covenants, conditions and restrictions in the subdivision plat regarding a homeowners association. If the developer knew a homeowners association might take shape, then he may have been telling you about those CC&Rs. They may be voluntary or mandatory. Litigation here in Florida involves turning a voluntary homeowners association into a mandatory one without existing or new homeowners permission. The associations seem to be losing these cases.

I truly feel for your predicament. Although you probably don’t want to hear it, good luck. In some cases, homeowners associations and developers can’t be trusted. Thus the laws.