Senator's bill would limit HOAs' fining power

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A lawmaker who says homeowner associations too often levy unfair and excessive fines against their residents pushed back Tuesday with a bill that limits these neighborhood groups' power to hand out penalties.

Sen. Jim Rice, R-Caldwell, said he has received multiple complaints from people who believe their HOAs were acting unfairly. One of them, a teacher who lives in his district who helped prompt his legislation, was especially aggrieved after butting heads with her neighborhood's association after the summer heat caused part of her lawn to turn yellow.

Rice wants to force HOA boards to hold a majority vote before handing out a fine, with the homeowner receiving a 30-day written notice of the meeting. His bill would also bar the groups from going after residents who are making a "good-faith effort" to resolve the problem.

"It's unreasonable," Rice told the Senate Commerce and Human Resources Committee. "If somebody is addressing the problem, they shouldn't be fined at all."

The panel voted unanimously to send his bill to the Senate floor for debate.

Rice doesn't live in a neighborhood governed by such an association, but he says one of his constituents got a letter from her HOA telling her the lawn needed work last August.

According to her story, the woman began using a fertilizer treatment on the grass, Rice said, but the group fined her anyway because it wasn't greening up quickly enough.

The association ignored multiple attempts at contact— including several phone calls and a letter explaining the fertilizer treatment and showing receipts for the purchase— and hit the homeowner with another fine.

Rice said that's the kind of runaway power he hopes to tackle with the bill, which passed the Senate Commerce and Human Resources Committee on Tuesday.

"We want to protect those covenants and restrictions, but we want to protect the homeowners from arbitrary decision," he said. "This bill strikes a balance between the two: It eliminates the really abusive situations without eliminating the ability to enforce the covenants."

John Eaton, lobbyist for Idaho Association of Realtors, backed the bill as well. "There's almost no regulation on homeowner associations," he said.

Still, some countered in the hearing that homeowners agree to abide by rules when they move in and worried the legislation would cut the associations off at the knees when they try to levy fines for shorter-term problems.

Georgia Mackley, co-owner of the Boise-based homeowners association management company Development Services Inc., said the bill was "giving homeowners more wiggle room" to ignore HOA complaints.

The bill would provide HOA scofflaws with a loophole to dodge penalties and prevent HOAs from taking swift action to fix an issue, she said.

"By allowing this bill to pass, associations will no longer be able to put in place a timely process to deal with covenants, conditions and restrictions violations," Mackley said.

Senators, however, offered their own stories of homeowner association woe in backing Rice's plan.

For instance, Sen. Fred Martin, R-Boise, said his business had worked with HOAs, and he too often saw them being overaggressive with fines and complicating easily-resolved grievances.

"I think this bill is a modest effort to rein in and correct a problem I saw for 20 years," he said. "Hundreds, if not thousands of associations throughout Idaho were using their powers inappropriately."