2012 Commentary: The Trayvon Martin Tragedy Points to Some of the Drawbacks of Homeowners Associations

Abstract: Trayvon Martin's family will likely sue the homeowners association in Zimmerman's neighborhood because it authorized Zimmerman to represent it as the captain of its neighborhood watch. This issue hints at some of the drawbacks of these associations.

The Trayvon Martin tragedy is still in the news. An Associated Press article published on Yahoo! earlier today notes that the deceased teen's parents might be able to sue the "homeowners association of the neighborhood where the shooting happened and [George] Zimmerman lived." Per Florida legal precedent, the association could be liable because it authorized Zimmerman to serve as "the neighborhood watch captain." This issue highlights some of the potential drawbacks to living in an area that has a homeowners association.

Many people prefer to reside in neighborhoods, which are part of homeowners associations, due to the benefits these organizations provide. For one thing, the associations are responsible for enforcing any restrictive covenants in their respective domains, which help to keep property values high (at the expense of individual owners' rights). These organizations, depending on their charters, may also take care of things like house painting, roof replacements, road repair, and other neighborhood projects, thereby relieving individual owners of having to deal with these issues. However, while homeowners associations are helpful in many ways, they do have their drawbacks.

For one thing, a homeowners association has the responsibility to enforce any restrictive covenants that are tied to the neighborhood, and many of these organizations aggressively enforce these codes. This is important because covenants can significantly limit the rights of individuals to manage their own properties. Depending on the state, covenants can dictate everything from the paint color on a house to the type of pets allowed in a residence. An article on notes that one association's restrictive covenants list is 55 pages long.

Perhaps more worrisome to some residents (depending on the state in which they live), homeowners associations can levy special assessments on owners to do everything from repairing or maintaining vacant houses or condominiums to paying off any legal bills related to lawsuits. A USA Today article notes that an association in one neighborhood in Fort Pierce, Fla., "levied $6,000 assessments on everyone" in order to repair plumbing issues in vacant houses. The individual homeowners in this neighborhood found themselves on the hook for thousands of dollars in expenses for upkeep to distressed and mismanaged properties that they did not own. According to Cyber Citizens for Justice, Florida law might allow the homeowners association in Zimmerman's neighborhood to bill residents, including those members who were not actively involved in their association, for any legal costs related to the Trayvon Martin tragedy.

Finally, as the residents mentioned in the USA Today article found out, homeowners associations in many states have the right to foreclose on a property if an individual does not (or cannot) pay his or her association fees and dues. In Fort Pierce, the association foreclosed on owners who could not pay the $6,000 special assessment. The same thing could happen to the people living in Zimmerman's neighborhood at some point in the future.

-- Anthony Hopper

#justice #HOA #homeownersassociation #opinion

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