A new Idaho law set to take effect this summer will curb the power of homeowners' associations after state lawmakers felt some organizations were abusing their authority.
HOAs are popular in Idaho's larger cities. Six years ago, the Idaho Senate estimated there were around 2,500 homeowners' associations in the state. An HOA's goal is to keep neighborhood property values up by enforcing covenants and bylaws. Residents who don’t always abide can be fined.
But those fines can be subjective and some HOAs are more strict in their enforcement than others. Last year, a Caldwell resident complained to state Sen. Jim Rice after the woman’s yard had been burned by the summer heat. Her homeowners' association issued what she felt were excessive fines. Rice tried to intervene.
"I sent a letter to the homeowners' association for them with the receipts of what they were doing to green up their lawn," Rice explained. "It was August, everybody’s lawn gets a little yellow in August."
Rice says the resident took a patch of her lawn into a local nursery and followed their recommendations. But it didn’t green up fast enough.
"When they [the HOA] were sent a letter saying 'Hey, this is what they are doing, you shouldn’t be fining them,' they responded by fining them again," Rice says.
Rice advised the woman in Caldwell to hire a lawn care company to fertilize the yard. He says that made matters worse.
"Well, that company would put that little three-inch sign in the lawn to letcha know it had been done that day, don’t let your dog out, and they fined them for that [sign]."
Rice heard from other constituents who felt like their HOA’s were abusing their power, or, as he puts it “playing God.” So the lawmaker began working on a new bill to make the fining process for associations more difficult. The state Legislature passed the bill with broad support earlier this year.
Now, beginning July 1, HOA's will have to give written notice if a resident is out of compliance with neighborhood code, and allow 30 days to let the homeowner fix the problem before fining them. Homeowners can appeal the fine if they’re trying to rectify the problem.
Don Heuer is the president of the Valley Heights subdivision in Caldwell. He says associations should always work to be fair, but he thinks the new rules go too far, and will make it harder for HOA's to keep their subdivisions nice.
"How do you maintain the neighborhood? If a person is non-responsive to the notification that they're not maintaining the situation, and that person doesn't want to go to the homeowners association and explain their actions they're taking to resolve that issue, does the whole neighborhood suffer?" he asks.
Heuer and other HOA's are worried that the law gives non-compliant residents a loophole: They can take only the minimum steps to keep from being fined, but never really fix a problem completely.
Copyright 2014 Boise State Public Radio