Faced with a budget shortfall and leaking roofs on some homes, a Johnson County HOA president decided drastic measures were necessary to tackle the problem.
She devised a plan: Require each homeowner to pay a special assessment of $6,000, due by Feb. 1. The assessment amounts to nearly three years’ worth of dues. Homeowners pay $180 per month for items including lawn care, snow removal, parking, fences, roofs and pool.
Owners in the Lincolnshire subdivision in Mission, a community of townhomes along 51st Street near Interstate 35, are livid about the action, which some say they only learned about in recent days. It’s yet another symptom, they say, of a homeowners association marred by mismanagement and a lack of accountability.
“I’ve told them over and over that they need to be more transparent,” said Steve Tennyson, whose daughter, Sara, lives in a townhome he bought while she takes graduate courses in physical therapy at the University of Kansas.
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“I’ve repeatedly asked to see the financial documents but haven’t received anything. How can we support something like this if we can’t even see where the money has been going?”
But board president Ellen Hoerle, who took over last summer when the previous president left amid criticism of poor accounting practices, told homeowners the action is necessary to repair the roofs, gutters and chimney caps on many of the homes. The HOA comprises 33 units in 10 buildings.
The issue is one of many The Star has examined in recent years involving the homes association explosion and the problems it has spawned. Today, more than one in five people in the U.S. live in a homeowners or condo association, and more than 60 percent of new housing starts are in HOAs.
Among The Star’s findings: homes associations wield far more power than homeowners realize, and some struggle with accountability. And with many subdivisions now approaching three decades in existence, there’s a growing number of HOAs that haven’t saved enough money to pay for projects and needed repairs.
Lincolnshire board members debated the special assessment proposal at a meeting on Thursday.
“It got pretty heated,” Sara Tennyson said afterward. “There were people who immediately became angry and wanted to speak.”
The proposal failed on a 3-3 vote — the HOA treasurer resigned before the meeting started and didn’t attend. But homeowners know the problems are real and the issues must be addressed.
Hoerle — who owns a townhome in the HOA but lives in Minnesota — would not discuss the concerns with The Star.
“At this time, I would like to keep the continued discussions that we need to have as a community out of the public arena,” Hoerle said in an email to The Star on Saturday. “If the homeowners who contacted you had the best interests of the entire community at heart, as well as their own, they, too, would understand that.”
Lincolnshire homeowners say their problems were compounded by the previous president and her partner, the HOA’s property manager. The owners said they repeatedly raised concerns about questionable expenses and asked to see the financial records but that their requests were ignored.
“There are serious accountability concerns,” said Cale Errebo, a homeowner who served briefly as treasurer from June through September. “My biggest concern is that there’s no recourse. It’s mind-blowing that there’s no state or local governance over these little communities.
“You call the secretary of state, the district attorney, the local police. They don’t know, they don’t care, there’s no enforcement, there’s no oversight, there’s no regulation. It’s all self-governance. And if there’s overstep or noncompliance by the board, there’s almost nothing you can do about it.”
Errebo said the former property manager was a one-person show.
“She wrote checks to herself,” he said. “She got a monthly fee of $800 and then gave herself $500 a month to take care of the pool when it was open.”
After a siding project, he said, “the more we kept digging, the more we found.”
“The workers weren’t licensed and bonded, the property manager was giving herself 10 percent of the costs and said she was only required to keep documents for one year.”
He said the HOA was “a hot mess.”
“It’s like living in ‘Bizarre World,’” he said. “We get them out, try to be transparent, try to be neighborly, try to move on. Then I’m alerted about this $6,000 assessment that they’re trying to ram through.”
One of his neighbors, he said, is 70 years old and has cancer.
“How’s she going to pay her mortgage and do chemo and then pay $6,000 to somebody?” he said. “We’re told we can go get loans. What if we can’t get loans? Are they going to put liens on a third of the properties here?”
In the days leading up to Thursday’s board meeting, angry notices were posted on the mailboxes and heated emails were exchanged.
“The Board President/Board members have a fiduciary responsibility to the homeowners,” one owner wrote to residents. “Until I see a more comprehensive thought out plan as well as bank statements and expenses I am not in favor of ANY assessment.
“You don’t demand additional money from homeowners when you have never shown accountability for any expenses since the takeover 6 months ago or when bids are all over the place. This is unbelievable.”
Another homeowner called on Hoerle to resign.
“We need all of our board members to be living here on the property in the state of Kansas, not Minnesota,” she wrote in an email to homeowners, including Hoerle. “Therefore, we just need you to step down and to stop talking so much. We need all financials on a website immediately. I requested the financials from you in July, August and September and have not gotten them.”
Errebo said in a note to residents that he was “well aware that there are dire needs in Lincolnshire.”
“There may even be need of additional funds,” he said. However, he added, “Having a proper, well-researched and feasible plan in place to fund the immediate needs of homeowners is the job of the board and it doesn’t exist.”
Those attending Thursday night’s board meeting at the Sylvester Powell Jr. Community Center said Hoerle increased the amount of the proposed assessment from $6,000 to $6,500.
Some residents raised concerns about a lack of transparency.
“One lady said we want to see a cash flow to see what our money is being spent on before we invest in anything else,” Sara Tennyson said. “They gave out a paper at the meeting that said what was spent from June 7 to August 27, but that’s the only thing we’ve seen.”
Now that the plan failed to pass, no one is sure what will happen. And Hoerle isn’t commenting.
“These roofs need to be fixed,” Sara Tennyson said. “But we’re wondering why we have to assess all the homes at one time. Can we do the worst ones first and not scare people with $6,000?”
And homeowners still want to know how their dues have been spent.
“Our argument is, if we can get some of that money back, we wouldn’t have to pay so much,” Tennyson said. “That’s why we want to see some sort of plan for how we’re going to pay for all of this.”
Errebo said he’s learned a valuable lesson.
“You buy a place in an HOA, you’re gonna get a pool, your lawn taken care of. Sounds great,” he said. “But it really all depends on your HOA. There’s good HOAs and there’s poor HOAs.”
He said he hopes for a positive resolution.
“I think ultimately what will come out of this is maybe some community involvement and people not being kept in the dark anymore,” he said. “But the homeowners and the board will need to work together.”
One thing, though, is certain, he said.
“I’ll never live in an HOA again.”