Last month, the spotlight was put on homeowners associations after the collapse of the Surfside, Fla., condominium development near Miami killed 98 people. How well an HOA is managed can make all the difference in the safety of someone’s living environment.
Thankfully most people living in a community with an HOA won’t face such tragedy, but they are still likely to deal with hassles over budgets, maintenance, and bylaw enforcement. About 74 million Americans live in homeowners associations, condominium communities, or cooperatives, according to a report by iPropertyManagement.com. There are more than 11,000 in Massachusetts alone, and 38% of homeowners in the state are part of HOAs.
We asked readers who are members of an HOA to share their most frustrating experiences with us.
“The board of directors and the property management company in my community is the worst of them all. They do not uphold the standard of excellence in the community,” Margaret Kendrick told Boston.com. Kendrick said her community needs to address parking commercial vehicles and boats, painting homes, trash piles, and torn-up window blinds, among other things. “I will never move into a community that has an HOA!”
Readers who responded to our survey expressed a number of concerns, including unreasonably high fees, passive-aggressive neighbors, and little to no accountability. For Sue from Sturbridge, the biggest issues are a “lack of communication” and “excuses as to why they can’t address issues which also involve safety concerns.”
Bill from Quincy said it became clear during the pandemic that the HOA would not be good about communicating with residents.
“During the COVID pandemic of 2020, the HOA where I live decided to increase our HOA fee by 12 percent,” he said. “Then decided they would not have an HOA meeting or even face us on a Zoom call. When I questioned the property manager as to why they refused to meet with the homeowners, the response I received was: ‘This is just how they choose to do it.’ “
Of the 75 readers who responded to the survey, 93% said they have had negative experiences with their HOA. Below, you will find a sampling of their responses (some comments have been edited for length and clarity):
“Moved into a brand-new condo building housing three units a year and a half ago. The other two units were sold about two months after our closing. Three units and the board needs three members, so obviously, each unit has a member on the board. Within weeks, Unit 2 and Unit 3 aren’t talking anymore. My husband has become the Joe Manchin of the HOA, with the other two board members jockeying for his vote to side with whatever item on the agenda they personally have promoted. Needless to say, we are moving in a month.” — Kelly Nickerson, Newburyport
“One guy wrecked the whole HOA! The guy has lived in the building for years but is ‘too busy’ to be a trustee. He would e-mail the trustees endless requests and claimed he could opt out of an assessment. When all the other owners wanted a professional manager to satisfy his demands, he prevented it by voting against the dues increase to pay for it. He nearly ended up in court twice for not paying the amounts he owed. All it takes is one bad apple.” — John, East Boston
“Just moved into a four-unit building with a shared foyer. We were excited to hang our bikes like the other three units. Then we were told that the HOA previously voted to give the three other units rights to install and use bike racks and forbid our unit from doing so before we bought the fourth unit. Essentially we were excluded from using the shared space like everyone else. Can an HOA really vote to give three units privileges in a shared space and exclude the fourth unit that is deeded to have equal access?” — John, Roxbury
“The treasurer of our association refused to allow our property management firm to repair an active leak in another owner’s unit simply because she did not like her. They had been friends at one point, had a falling out, and held back any legitimate requests for repairs. This leak then made its way into my unit and caused considerable water damage in my kitchen.” — Jennifer
“No one would take ownership of anything even with a four-unit association. Unless something was broken, nothing got fixed, and no one wanted to put money aside for reserves, so any fixes had to be paid out of pocket immediately. In addition, no one wanted to set rules in regards to smoking, so one day we all came home from work to a massive smoke cloud in the building foyer because the basement unit [residents] decided to smoke up all morning/afternoon and proceed to fall asleep. No children could enter the units, and we had to wait for the smoke and smell to dissipate. Even after this, nothing was done to update rules in regards to smoking inside units and its effect on others.” — Paula, Brookline
“The HOA is completely controlled by one family … There is virtually no maintenance done to the buildings, including cleaning of gutters, treatment for pests, painting, etc. The most frustrating experience has been with leaks (not unique to my unit). When it rains, water pours into my unit from outside the building. Because the water is coming from the outside, I cannot fix the problem, and repeated complaints to the HOA over the past five years have not been addressed. Condo fees are high, yet it is not clear where my fees go each month. Accounting is opaque, and there is no accountability at all.” — Lisa, Salem
Boston.com occasionally interacts with readers by conducting informal polls and surveys. These results should be read as an unscientific gauge of readers’ opinions.