Homeowners associations, commonly referred to as HOAs, are famous for getting under the skin of residents who feel that their bylaws are intrusive. But sometimes these governing bodies, which purportedly exist to maintain community values, landscaping and resources, enforce their statutes with such rigidity that they don't just annoy residents, they ignite firestorms of controversy that reverberate across the country. This year provided its fair share of homeowner outrage. Below, AOL Real Estate recaps the best (or worst) of the bunch.
An incident took place this past summer when an HOA filed a cease-and-desist order on a home that was about to be built for a wounded Army vet in Evans, Ga. Homes for Our Troops, a nonprofit that builds homes for injured vets, was just about to start construction on the house for Army Sgt. 1st Class Sean Gittens (pictured above), who was partially paralyzed by an IED blast in Iraq.
The HOA claimed that it filed the order because Homes for Our Troops had not submitted the necessary paperwork, but the nonprofit insisted otherwise. A spokesperson for the association let slip that some property owners were worried that the home's relatively small size and customizations (the house was designed to accommodate Gittens' disability) would drag down home values. That raised some suspicions over what the HOA's true motives were. Gittens' wife, Sharon, took particular offense to the HOA's request that builders add a second floor to the home.
"My husband doesn't need that. He's wheelchair bound," she said. The Gittenses later decided to leave the HOA and explore options elsewhere. Homes for Our Troops agreed to build the home in a new location, but Sharon Gittens said the experience left a bitter taste in her mouth.
In another case of an HOA going head-to-head with a veteran, one association in Macedonia, Ohio, demanded that Fred Quigley, a retired Army chaplain, remove an American flag that he had been flying on a flagpole in his front yard. The HOA said the flag violated a community rule prohibiting flagpoles in common areas, and it threatened legal action if Quigley did not remove it. Quigley stood his ground. And it paid off. After a media backlash and a groundswell of local support from fellow veterans, the HOA agreed to allow the flag to fly.
Like Quigley, a couple in Lexington, Ky. also battled an HOA to defend something near and dear to their hearts. In this case, it was the well-being of their child (pictured below). The Andover Forest Homeowners' Association had demanded that the Veloudis family remove a therapy playhouse for their 3-year-old, who suffers from cerebral palsy. According to the child's mother, Tiffany, the home had proved vital to the toddler's development. "Since we got this, he can walk stairs on his own," Tiffany told WMBF News. But following the public backlash against the demand, the HOA, as of Dec. 15, had agreed to allow the family to keep the playhouse temporarily. Meanwhile state lawmaker Richard Henderson said that he planned to propose a bill that would make it illegal for an HOA to ban such things when necessary to therapy.
While in the previous cases, HOAs stopped short of enforcing their rules after pushback from the public, one in Pittsburgh, Pa., took matters into its own hands. Accusing the Vasko family of violating a rule against displaying objects on "common ground" of the community, the HOA removed a 150-pound Virgin Mary statue from the spot where the Vasko family had placed it in their front yard. The HOA had said it would not return the statue until the family paid fines totaling $4,000.
"Would that be extortion or kidnapping?" Steven Vasko asked TV station KDKA 2. "You tell me, I don't know."
Considering there were an estimated 62 million residents living in HOAs or other association-governed communities in the U.S. as of 2010, odds are that there are some of you out there that have your own compelling HOA stories to tell. Fill us in by sharing them in the comments below.