The military family who fought to get their house back after foreclosure by their HOA is leaving Texas.
But Michael and May Clauer say they plan to stay involved in legislative efforts to curtail the powers of homeowners associations.
Michael Clauer was on active duty with the Army National Guard in 2008 when the Heritage Lakes Homeowners Association sold the couple's Frisco home at a foreclosure auction. The couple hadn't paid their quarterly HOA dues. May Clauer had become depressed over her husband's deployment and fell behind on bills.
Their situation sparked outrage, and at least three bills related to HOA foreclosures have already been filed by Texas lawmakers, who convene Jan. 11. Proposals range from requiring HOAs to obtain a court order before foreclosure to prohibiting them from making foreclosures entirely. Past efforts to give more protections to homeowners in Texas have failed.
"If we could just change the law, then all the stress and all the money and everything else will be worth it so it doesn't happen to another family," said Michael Clauer, who's moving his wife and two children to Virginia when he returns to the Army next month.
The Clauers' ordeal began with a bill for $977.55, but the debt continued to increase as months passed without payment. Multiple notices sent by certified mail to the couple's home went unanswered.
May Clauer didn't open any of the letters.
She and her parents owned the home mortgage-free. The house, valued at more than $300,000, sold at Denton County's foreclosure auction for $3,201. It was resold more than a year later for $135,000.
The couple learned about the sale only after the new owner tried to evict May Clauer and her children while her husband, a captain, was overseas commanding a company responsible for convoy security.
"It's pretty disturbing when you're in Iraq and you're in a combat zone like that and you're hearing about somebody who's signing these letters and he's trying to get your family evicted, trying to get them out on the streets before you get home," Michael Clauer said.
The couple filed suit, claiming protection under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act. The federal law protects those on active duty from certain financial and legal obligations, including foreclosure, without a court proceeding. In July, the Clauers reached a settlement with the HOA. A gag order in the case keeps the details under wraps. The Clauers would only say that it was a long and expensive process.
Heritage Lakes officials didn't return calls for comment.
In the past, spokesmen for HOAs have said homeowners agree to the rules when they move in, and that foreclosure powers allow them to collect what's owed when people don't pay.
Property records show the house was transferred back into the Clauers' name on Aug. 25. Living in the neighborhood hasn't been the same, though.
"You never get really comfortable anymore," May Clauer said.
That's partly why his family will go with Michael Clauer to Fort Lee in Virginia, where he'll be stationed when he returns to active duty. He's not sure what his assignment will be, but he knows his family will have a better support system. His wife will be near other military spouses and have access to services from the Army base.
They plan to sell the house they worked so hard to keep. The two-story home has a clear view of the HOA's clubhouse and is just across the street from the third hole of the community's nine-hole golf course.
Military families face foreclosure at four times the rate of civilians, according to one study.
The nonprofit agency USA Cares, which offers counseling and financial help in foreclosure cases to post-9/11 military personnel and veterans, states the average cost to save a military home from foreclosure is $3,300.
Clauer said his family's story was a real eye-opener for a lot of people, himself included.
"We didn't know they could do that," he said of HOAs.
People need to ask about HOA bylaws and how late payments are handled before they move in, Clauer said.
"We just need to get the word out and get the law changed," he said, "so no one has to go through what we went through."