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Homeowner Assn. Rules Leave Mark

April 28, 1985|JOHN BETZ WILLMANN | Special to The Times

WASHINGTON — My parents lived in their home for nearly 40 years without ever being members of a homeowner or citizen (neighborhood) association. As a matter of fact, my own family had no HOA affiliation until we moved into our present "adult" community five years ago.

Now our residential life is more expensive and complicated. Albeit, we are generally happy and better informed, but also more dependent on the wishes and whims of neighbors. We get more services--and we pay for them. No free lunches here in Heritage Harbour, where the mandatory (as per deed) community association now demands and gets about $110 a month from each owner for services that include grass cutting, snow shoveling, maintenance of common grounds, TV cable service, use of a community lodge, pool and tennis courts. It costs extra to play golf.

But the idea of a "carefree (in terms of chores)" life for adults over 45 can get caught up in the realities of rising labor costs on one hand and the obvious concern of the developer (U.S. Home) to hold down the mandatory monthly costs so that new buyers will not be turned off. When we bought five years ago, the monthly fee was $55. It has doubled. Now the U.S. Home people put in a new wrinkle, offering 1985 buyers a similar low monthly fee--made lower by not taking the lawn-cutting service with the package of services. Longtime owners have the same choice. So we bought a lawn mower this spring after giving our old one to a son five years ago.

Doing It Themselves

As a nostalgia bit, can you imagine having to pay more than $600 a year just to have your average 5,000 square feet of grass trimmed and edged during the summer months? To some of our residents, this service apparently is well worth the dollar cost. On the other hand, two across-the-street households have at-home wives (of two working guys) who have been trimming, edging, fertilizing and watering their lawns for the past three years. Until this year, those women were cutting their own lawns even though their households had to pay for a lawn service that they considered to be below their standards.

Living in a community with a mandated association provides some environmental and structural change, protection and some rules for democratic operation. None of us can erect an outdoor shed for tools. Nor can we hang out wash to dry. But neither can our neighbors. Nor can they change the color of their house paint to purple nor park a boat or an RV on their property. We win some and we lose some. We got the game rules when we moved in. If we bother to read them dutifully, we should know the score.

Proliferating Associations

Homeowner associations have been proliferating in this growing metropolitan area and also in most growing suburban areas of the nation. HOAs are not just for condo residents but much more for homeowners who are in communities with commonly-owned green space, recreation buildings, roads and varied facilities or amenities.

Roger D. Winston, chairman of a Maryland legislative subcommittee on homeowner associations, said a bill to regulate associations was drafted because citizens testified last year about the lack of specific laws regulating the creation and operation of HOAs. Problems included the surprise of homeowners that they were, indeed, members of HOAs, to the problems of gray areas covered or not covered by the association.

Many communities have HOAs, because counties have been unwilling to accept the responsibility for private road maintenance inside communities. For the purposes of the proposed legislation, only HOAs having fees (like ours) would be covered. Covenants and architectural restrictions alone would not be sufficient to warrant coverage under the Maryland bill. However, Winston said the proposed HOA bill would establish a procedure to be followed by associations wanting to enforce liens against individual properties and owners who are delinquent on fees.

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