HOA

Group shifts its mission — and homeowners get left behind

The Enclave at Harpeth Village in Nashville, Tenn., notified the Meekers of an HOA violation because the standard blinds were taken down and replaced with curtains. Last October, 3-year-old Camilla Meeker got tangled on the cords of the blinds and was nearly strangled. The Meekers immediately took down the blinds the night of the incident and days later put up curtains.
The Enclave at Harpeth Village in Nashville, Tenn., notified the Meekers of an HOA violation because the standard blinds were taken down and replaced with curtains. Last October, 3-year-old Camilla Meeker got tangled on the cords of the blinds and was nearly strangled. The Meekers immediately took down the blinds the night of the incident and days later put up curtains. jledford@kcstar.com

If you’re looking for help because your homeowners association is pushing you around, there’s one place you may not want to go:

The Community Associations Institute.

Although the organization says it works to promote harmony in HOAs, it actually sides almost exclusively with HOA boards, critics say.

And the group’s efforts now stymie attempts to regulate HOAs, said Carson Horton, co-founder of Capital Reserve Consultants, an Oregon-based company that conducts reserve studies for community associations.

“I don’t care where you go, if you have legislation that even hints of any sort of regulatory oversight,” Horton said, “they’re there with their war chest and all their attorneys, and they’ll fight it to the death.”

When Kansas legislators had a hearing this year on a bill designed to strengthen an HOA law adopted in 2010, an attorney who serves on the board of the CAI’s Heartland Chapter testified against it.

Rod Hoffman, who represents more than 100 homes associations in northeast Kansas, told members of the House Local Government Committee that the law “doesn’t need tinkering.”

Dawn Bauman, the CAI’s senior vice president of government affairs, strongly disagrees that HOAs need more regulation. While there may seem to be a lot of complaints, she said, the percentage is small.

“I don’t think that there’s an overwhelming problem of bully boards and lack of oversight,” she said.

But even one of the CAI founders acknowledges homeowners have taken a back seat.

When the CAI was formed, homeowners were among several groups it sought to work with, said Lincoln Cummings, a co-founder of the organization and former president.

But the organization was restructured two decades ago, he said, when property managers and attorneys — the ones making their living on the homeowners associations — changed the bylaws.

“They wrestled control away from homeowners,” Cummings said.

As a result, critics say, the CAI works arm in arm with attorneys and property management companies, aggressively fighting measures aimed at making HOAs more accountable.

“Their goal is to improve conditions for the trade and make more money for their members — the attorneys and the managers,” said Shu Bartholomew, host of "On the Commons," a weekly radio show in Virginia that addresses HOA issues.

The CAI disputes that it opposes tougher regulations and fails to protect homeowners.

And Cummings said the CAI still is needed to help train leaders of HOA boards, who are everyday citizens and usually not skilled in the management of corporations.

Many HOAs have multimillion-dollar budgets, he said, and all have the right to levy assessments and enforce regulations.

“So it’s very necessary to have an organization like CAI,” he said, “to be able to research the best ways to do that and train people to do it competently.”

Judy L. Thomas: 816-234-4334, @judylthomas

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