Phoenix (December 6, 2010) — Two homeowners from Mesa’s Sunland Village community questioned their homeowners association board about some of its actions and in return received a bill for nearly $5,000 from the HOA to cover its legal fees that were incurred to provide the answers.
Homeowners Pat Haruff and Barbara Worbington believed that their HOA board was not acting within the best interests of the association’s members. They contacted the board several times with inquiries but later decided to hire an attorney to speak on their behalf when they found a lack of progress in receiving answers to their questions.
The homeowners’ attorney submitted a letter to the HOA outlining six complaints about some of the board’s actions and expenditures, one of which was a $5,500-expenditure to create a non-profit, charitable corporation that would allow the HOA to accept gifts from member estates and other donations without any tax penalties. Haruff and Worbington contend the charity was in violation of state and federal law. Other complaints addressed the board’s failure to accurately record minutes of recent meetings and the conducting of “mini” closed door board meetings before regular open sessions.
The homeowners did not file suit against the HOA, but the submittal of this inquiry letter to the board’s attorney resulted in a demand to pay $4,867.50 to cover the legal costs the board incurred in answering their grievances. HOA attorney Jason Smith contends that the homeowners did not follow the procedure of notifying the association of their complaints and this bill for legal costs will help Haruff and Worbington to “fully understand their mistakes and misunderstandings that caused them to assert the baseless claims.” In a response letter to the homeowners’ attorney, Smith further noted a lack of merit to their complaints. “The issues raised were considered to be frivolous and harassing by the board and not designed to better the community or to improve the governance of the association,” he said in his letter.
State Sen. Eddie Farnsworth believes that HOAs serve a useful purpose if operated property. He said the turmoil at Sunland appears to be indicative of a widespread problem among many Arizona HOAs. As a longtime advocate of restricting HOA powers, Farnsworth often finds the issue to be a difference of opinion between members and the HOA on various matters. Members want access to information and HOAs generally decide that members are not entitled to such information. He has also found a discrepancy between the two sides’ opinions on the matter of a member’s right to question the use of HOA funds. He identifies the crux of the issue to be a lack of transparency and oversight among problematic HOAs.
Former state Sen. Tom Freestone, who initiated Arizona’s first legislative inquiries into questionable HOA practices several years ago, said the association’s claim against the women exemplifies one of the most prolific complaints about many HOAs – their overreaching actions to penalize homeowners with excessive charges for minor incidents.