HOA

It’s not easy to take on an HOA, but it’s possible to win

Nancy Hentschel found dinosaur sculptures in Arizona and brought them back for her front yard in Sugar Land, Texas. Her HOA told her that she couldn’t keep them, and she fought back.
Nancy Hentschel found dinosaur sculptures in Arizona and brought them back for her front yard in Sugar Land, Texas. Her HOA told her that she couldn’t keep them, and she fought back.

Sometimes homeowners decide to take on their HOAs. And occasionally they win.


For six years, Ferne Skidmore and her friends gathered weekly at the Velda Rose Estates clubhouse in Mesa, Ariz., sewing Christmas stockings to fill and give to underprivileged children.

In 2014, they made more than 3,000.

But one day last year the HOA president barred them from the clubhouse, saying the association’s bylaws prohibited use by groups with religious affiliations.

Skidmore, 81, filed an appeal to the state agency that handles HOA issues, describing her group as “charitable” and “non-secular.” She took $550 from her air conditioner repair fund to pay the filing fee.

In September, a judge ruled in the ladies’ favor, even ordering the HOA to reimburse Skidmore’s $550.

The HOA did not respond to requests for comment. But at the hearing on Skidmore’s appeal, president Roger Walklin testified that the board had banned the group because it had a religious affiliation, money from the project was not going through the HOA treasurer’s office and most of the women weren’t members of the HOA.

Skidmore, however, said those weren’t the main reasons.

“They were being bullies,” she told The Star. “Where else in the United States would somebody kick a bunch of old ladies making Christmas stockings out of a clubhouse?”


Nancy Hentschel stumbled upon them on a trip to Arizona two years ago.

Two dinosaur sculptures made of spot-welded sheet metal and rusted into a dark brown.

“I just had to have them,” Hentschel said. “They truly are works of art.”

Not to the New Territory Residential Community Association in Sugar Land, Texas.

The dinos — a Tyrannosaurus rex and a velociraptor — had barely gone up in the front yard of her Houston suburb last August, Hentschel said, when she heard from the HOA.

The association called them appurtenances, which it said weren’t allowed in a front yard.

“But there are appurtenances all over the community — birdbaths and stuff like that,” Hentschel said.

The dinos, Holms and Cassandra, quickly became the talk of the community, which comprises 4,606 homes. In the first 48 hours, Hentschel said, she met more neighbors than she had in the 19 years she’d lived there.

  

Nancy Hentschel found the two sculptures in Arizona and brought them back for her front yard in Sugar Land, Texas. Her HOA told her that she couldn’t keep them, and she fought back.Photo courtesy of Nancy Hentschel

She said she hoped the dinosaurs would draw attention to the abuse of power of homeowners associations — her own HOA was “constantly citing me” for things like cracks in her driveway or an uneven sidewalk.

She said the HOA threatened to fine her $200 a day if she didn’t remove the dinos. But she found a loophole in the association’s rules that allowed lawn decorations for up to three days for holidays and celebrations.

“If you go online, you can find a holiday for every day,” she said. “So I just printed out the daily event that I was celebrating, and I taped that to the dinosaurs.”

Michael Walker, the HOA’s executive director, said Texas law prohibited him from talking about a homeowner’s violations.

But many times, he said, residents are cited because they didn’t follow the approval process outlined in the HOA’s governing documents.

“Some of our residents even knowingly ignore those guidelines,” he said, “due to a dislike of the concept of HOAs.”

In February, Hentschel and her husband moved — to a place in the country — and not in an HOA.

They took the dinosaurs with them.

“I’m out,” she said. “And like the dinosaurs, it feels great to be free.”

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

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