The story is an especially surprising one considering that the HOA foreclosed on the home owned by Capt. Clauer, who serves in the Army Reserve, and his wife May because their monthly association dues of $800 were late, and that the company that manages the HOA proceeded to sell the house without notifying them.
Even more shockingly, Select Management, which oversees the Heritage Lakes housing development, sold the Clauers' home to a bidder for just $3,500. That purchaser, in turn, flipped it to another owner. And here's the clincher: The Clauers owned their $300,000 home free and clear.
May Clauer told HousingWatch, "We think our case demonstrates how much power HOAs have in Texas. HOAs can take away your home without a court order, which is more power than our local government has. We did not know HOAs could do that."
Texas law permits HOAs to foreclose on homes without a court order, regardless of how much money is owed.
The Clauers have reached an agreement to temporarily stay in the home, but have no idea what happened to the proceeds from the sale of their house.
"At first I didn't believe it. I didn't understand how someone can take your house and not give you anything for it," Capt. Clauer told Mother Jones.
Indeed, it sounds impossible, but here's what happened: While Capt. Clauer was serving in Iraq, his wife May fell into a deep depression brought on by worry about her husband's safety and the stress of caring for their two children. She stopped opening mail -- including the notifications about the HOA fees and, later, about the HOA's decision to foreclose and sell the house at auction.
May Clauer claims that no one called her or came to her door to speak with her directly, even though others had been notified in person about the consequences of late dues. The HOA claims not to have known Capt. Clauer was serving in the military at the time. The Clauers maintain that it was common knowledge in the neighborhood and are seeking to reverse the foreclosure and declare it "null and void."
But even that won't bring back their home. Under Texas law there is no way for the Clauers to get their home back. However, there might be hope under the federal Servicemembers Civil Relief Act. The SCRA protects members of the military from financial problems that occur while they are fighting for our country. However, it's a law that frequently is broken.
"SCRA complaints are definitely one of the top issues that we see," said Lt. Janelle Kuroda, a Navy lawyer and expert on the SCRA to local news reporters at WFAA-TV. She says that this issue affects all branches of the military.
More people in Texas seem to be agreeing that it's time to regulate homeowner associations to protect property rights. State Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas) is hoping to pass legislation to prevent HOAs from having such control over homeowners in their neighborhood.
"We'd like for everyone to let their representatives know that the power of the HOAs needs to be curtailed," May Clauer says. "We haven't heard anything from the defendants in our lawsuit and the trial will be in the early part of next year."
Meanwhile, if you'd like to help Capt. Clauer and his family fight for their house and change HOA laws in Texas, send your donation (made out to the Clauer Legal Defense Fund) to:
Clauer Legal Defense Fund
c/o Plains Capital Bank
1629 Hebron Parkway West
Carrollton, TX 75010
"We are overwhelmed with all the support we have received from the public.," says May Clauer. "We sincerely hope and pray that we will prevail in this lawsuit as well as change the HOA laws here in Texas."