Home buyers should know that many home owner associations and condominium associations are experiencing financial difficulties. Owners of pre-foreclosures and foreclosures frequently do not pay their monthly assessments. This really creates problems with the association budgets. The following article that appeared in the News-Post today is very timely. We receive calls every week from home owners that are upset with the condition of the homes and yards in their neighborhoods.
TAKING THE LAWN INTO THEIR OWN HANDS
HOAS DEPEND MORE ON CITY, RESIDENTS TO CLEAN YARDS OF FORECLOSED HOUSES
By ADAM BEHSUDI
Residents of David Lane aren't shy about unlatching, sometimes even kicking open, the back gates of vacant properties in their neighborhood.
Waist-high grass, trash and piles of rodentbreeding debris outside the foreclosed properties are forcing individuals to take matters into their own hands.
The work of maintaining the vacant properties can hardly be left to the cash-strapped homeowners association or to already overworked city code enforcers, said resident and association board member Steve Stoyke.
"We can't afford to have anyone come chop down these yards," he said.
Homeowners associations facing increasing numbers of foreclosures and empty coffers caused by a poor economy are illequipped to handle properties left abandoned and overgrown. The associations, which normally have the resources to maintain their neighborhoods, are turning to the city for help.
Complaints about overgrown grass and weeds are on track to double last year's total, according to data obtained from the City of Frederick.
Citywide, code enforcers responded to 540 complaints in 2007. In the first half of this year, the city has taken 501 calls.
In the city's 66 homeowner association neighborhoods, a similar pattern exists. The city received 123 complaints from those neighborhoods in 2007. There were 112 complaints in the first half of this year.
Foreclosed homes in Frederick County have nearly doubled from 60 in July 2007 to 114 this past month, according to Realtytrac, a California-based foreclosure monitoring firm.
The associations are within their rights to request city assistance and often find it easier to have the city take care of messy yards instead of levying fines that often go unpaid by absentee property owners or banks that have taken over foreclosed houses.
"We receive a lot of calls from the homeowners associations," said Mike Blank, former director of code enforcement for the city. "They call us when they are pretty much at their rope's end."
Blank, who retired from his position in June by taking a buyout offered by the city, said code enforcement employees have been working weekends to keep up with the calls for service.
Frequent rain in the first half of the summer caused grass in the yards of abandoned homes to grow rapidly, he said.
Residents can band together to clean abandoned properties, as the David Lane residents did, but an association can often get results from the city.
"They're entitled to make complaints and use the city's resources as anybody else is," Blank said.
As the president of the Hillmeade Square homeowners' association, Kathy Griffee said complaints are made to the city to help clean the yards of the seven foreclosed homes in her Amber Meadows neighborhood.
"We have absolutely no clout to enforce our rules and regulations," she said. "All we can do is make these threatening letters."
Five of the seven foreclosed properties in Griffee's neighborhood do not pay the $36 per month association fee.
Griffee said most residents are paying their fees despite the tough economic times. But, the fees that are collected are being put toward the cost of digging out of past snowstorms. Portions of the neighborhood's streets are dead ends and do not get plowed by the city.
Trimming lawns that have grown to two feet can cost as much as $100, she said.
After the city cut some of the most overgrown properties, some residents agreed to keep them maintained, Griffee said.
A homeowners association would most likely absorb the cost of doing the work to clean up a vacant property and apply a fine to the foreclosed property's association fee, said Michelle Cornett of Swank Property Management.
Cornett manages both the David Lane and Hillmeade Square neighborhoods.
"The problem is that it is taking so long to get anything from the bank," she said.
The ownership of foreclosed houses reverts to the banks that control the mortgage. Overdue fees are often collected when the house is resold.
The David Lane association collects $33 per month from each property.
The total cost of cutting grass on the five vacant properties, now being maintained by the volunteer effort of neighbors, is about $250 each time, said association board member Michelle Weatherhogg.
In the warmer months, the grass is usually cut once a week, she said. The association has budgeted $8,000 this year for mowing the grass of common areas.
Financial institutions far removed from the overgrown yards in city neighborhoods are often negligent about taking care of properties reclaimed through foreclosure.
Craig Wilson, president of Vanguard Management, said turning to the city is often the only choice.
"We do our best to pursue the bank to take over that maintenance," said Wilson, whose Germantown company manages homeowner associations in Tasker's Chance and Whittier.
If a property owner does not pay dues or maintain a yard in accordance with homeowners association guidelines, the association can put a lien against the property. But with a home that is already foreclosed, a lien from the city is more effective, he said.
A lien freezes ownership of a property until a debt is paid back.
But the association will always lose money, not being able to cover the costs of hiring a company to do the maintenance work, Wilson said.
"We try to utilize the services of local government whenever possible," he said. "It's a responsibility of multiple parties - the homeowners association and the local government."
Staff photo by Doug Koontz
MICHELLE WEATHERHOGG MOWS THE GRASS OF A FORECLOSED PROPERTY ACROSS THE STREET FROM HER DAVID LANE HOUSE. SHE AND OTHER HOA BOARD MEMBERS HAVE TAKEN ON CARE OF PROPERTIES IN THEIR NEIGHBORHOOD.