Houses of Horror
San Antonio Express-News, Dec. 2003
By Rachel L. Toalson
When Dorian MacDougall and his wife decided to paint their home in Shavano Ridge, they never dreamed their choice would end in a standoff that has many seeing red. But it did.
Nine months after the couple painted their home a pale orange to match the accent color in the brickwork, MacDougall received a letter from the Shavano Ridge Homeowners Association demanding that the house be repainted with one of the community's approved colors.
The letter indicated that the board had chosen to enforce stricter rules for painting houses, and MacDougall now was in violation. He was given three years to comply, and that deadline is almost here.
"Up until then, they had said it was OK to paint your house," MacDougall said. "We have it in writing that we painted our house in compliance with the rules that stood."
Ron Wong, the president of the Shavano Ridge Homeowners Association, said the homeowner's agreement that MacDougall signed has never permitted painting houses a color other than the original colors specified by the developer. The neighborhood is near Clark High School, just off De Zavala Road.
"The agreement that a homeowner signs up for when he buys the house has never changed," he said. "The covenants, the bylaws have never changed."
MacDougall met with board members June 10 in hopes of resolving the situation. He submitted four different shades of medium beige to be approved by the board, but all were rejected because they were "not the original standard colors," he said.
"But no one would ever define what the standard colors were," he said. "They refused to define it, even though we were asking." Wong refused comment on the meeting, saying it was the association's business. Chris Weber, attorney for the association, could not be reached.
MacDougall said it looks like he eventually will lose the battle with the association, and he is searching for a new home.
What befell MacDougall is not uncommon in areas where homeowners' associations have restrictions or covenants, a national expert said.
MacDougall is one of a growing number of people who live in an area governed by a neighborhood association, said Frank Rathbun, vice president of communications for Community Associations Institute (CAI), a nationwide organization that represents homeowner's associations, management companies and lawyers' groups.
With about 250,000 association-governed communities across the nation and about 50 million people living in them, Rathbun said differences of opinion are bound to arise.
"The vast majority of them operate smoothly and without major conflict or discontentment," he said. "But in any universe of that size, you're going to have conflict."
Wong said the organization has had its share of problems during the years, though he did not wish to discuss details. "We've had a variety of issues," he said. "But the other residents did concur. They all agreed to the covenant that they signed up to." Associations exist largely to keep neighborhoods looking neat and clean, Rathbun said.
"There are lots of reasons people move into these neighborhoods," he said. "When you move into a community, you have certain expectations, especially in a community association." Wong agreed that the rules help the appearance of neighborhoods. "They maintain some stability or conformance to the basic community look when (the community) was first established," he said.
Problems arise, Rathbun said, when owners do not follow the agreements they sign. "That's not uncommon," he said. "Some move in not realizing the nature of the community and those rules. Others move in and say, 'This rule is not going to apply to me.' A lot of this comes down to dialogue and communication."
Both Rathbun and Wong said that homeowners ultimately make the decision about where they want to live and whether to sign an agreement. But MacDougall said he did not receive the agreement until right before he finished building his house, which took about eight months. Never in that time, he said, did he ever see any kind of agreement or get an explanation of rules for the community.
Wong said the developer of the property, Centex Homes, is responsible for getting the agreement to the homeowner within a reasonable amount of time. If residents do not have a copy of the agreement, they can ask for one at the closing, he said. Centex Homes could not be reached for comment.
Ideally, Rathbun said, homeowners associations try to meet the expectations of their residents and residents respect their governing associations. To help both parties, CAI has published 42 rights and responsibilities for board members and homeowners, which are outlined in books and seminars throughout the year.
To learn more, call (703) 548-8600 or visit http://www.caionline.org/
MacDougall said he thinks homeowners associations have too much power because the government does not regulate them. "These people have more power than the state and local government," he said. "They can take your house away, and they don't have to let you know. "They have no responsibility; they can make up the rules to suit themselves. They continue to go completely unregulated, and homeowners haven't got a prayer."
He said he will be mailing out letters and surveys to homeowners who live in Shavano Ridge to ask their feelings about the covenant. He also has set up a Web site on the matter at http://www.usrw.org
Houses of Horror