Proposed constitutional amendment would prohibit HOA foreclosures

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by By TERRENCE STUTZ / The Dallas Morning News

wfaa.com

Posted on August 15, 2009 at 4:46 PM

Updated Friday, Oct 16 at 12:17 PM

AUSTIN - Homeowners associations in Texas would lose their power to foreclose on individual homeowners for nonpayment of dues and other fees under a proposed constitutional amendment filed Friday by a Dallas-area lawmaker.

The amendment and companion legislation by Rep. Burt Solomons, R-Carrollton, would provide more rights and protections for homeowners in HOA neighborhoods - including thousands in North Texas and across the state who have faced losing their homes for not paying dues.

"Things have gotten out of control with homeowners associations," Solomons said. "It's amazing that the courts have allowed them to foreclose on homesteads for something as minor as getting behind on association dues. ... We have to restore some balance."

There are an estimated 20,000 homeowners associations in Texas.

Solomons said the plight of many Texans in HOAs has been illustrated in news stories, such as when a Frisco homeowner was threatened with fines by his association in August for parking his Ford F-150 pickup in his driveway. HOA rules there required that nonluxury trucks be kept in the garage.

"Some of the requirements are excessive. Are you really going to fine somebody because their fence is six inches too high?" Solomons asked.

Rick Stopfer, an Irving City Council member and longtime board member for the Valley Ranch homeowners association, said the constitutional amendment would cripple the ability of HOAs to carry out their responsibilities.

"People agree to pay certain dues and fees when they become a homeowner in a community with an association. There has to be some type of penalty for those who are not willing to abide by the agreement," he said.

Solomons' proposal, which is expected to be opposed by HOA groups, would submit a constitutional amendment to Texas voters that would prohibit foreclosures by associations on homesteads within their jurisdiction.

That foreclosure authority dates to a 1987 ruling by the Texas Supreme Court. Texas is one of only a handful of states that allows HOAs to foreclose on members.

The amendment states that a homestead within an HOA would be "protected from forced sale for the payment of a debt" to the association. It would allow an association to place a lien on the property, which would entitle it to payment once the house is voluntarily sold by the owner.

A companion bill filed by Solomons would revamp the state's homeowners association laws, giving homeowners access to HOA meetings and records and requiring fair and transparent elections of homeowner boards.

His bill also would take aim at associations that prohibit use of solar panels by homeowners - a rule that Solomons said is out of step with current efforts to switch to more environmentally friendly types of energy.

Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, is carrying similar legislation in the Senate.

Stopfer said he could not recall any instance where a Valley Ranch homeowner was forced to give up his home for nonpayment of dues or fees. Where there are problems, he added, a payment plan can typically be set up.

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