How to Deal With an Unresponsive HOA
Dear Monty: We recently purchased a condo in a community with a homeowners association board and bylaws. This property was only a slab when we bought it with a July closing date. The builder did not complete the unit until the middle of October. The builder promised a closing date inspection for any blemishes or defects and would inspect it each quarter again until the end of one year. The builder also said that the unit would look like the other units (outside) in the community. At the end of April, the HOA requested a meeting because the triplex needed two-thirds approval to go forward. At this meeting, I expressed my concerns that I and others in our fourplex were not getting any satisfaction from the builder in resolving many issues. The HOA was only interested in the outside. I did write a letter to the board explaining all my concerns. They responded that it was our fault because we had taken a winter vacation in Arizona. The outside, which they claimed was their responsibility, does not match the other units. I wrote a second letter asking why we did not get the same treatment as the other units built 10-12 years ago. After a month, I did not get a response. The entire board is not very outgoing and is very standoffish. They told me they don't want to hear about any problems and will make any necessary decisions without outside input. My question is, is there a governing group in Wisconsin overseeing HOAs so I can voice my complaints, or will I have to contact a lawyer to get this board to answer my concerns?
Monty's Answer: Based on your shared information, consider investing in the cost of an initial meeting with an attorney. Should you proceed, here is a link to an article about how to identify a competent attorney if you do not have a relationship established.
The direct answer to your question is that a governmental body does oversee homeowners associations in Wisconsin. It is called the State Legislature. There is no license requirement to organize an HOA. The Wisconsin Department of Safety and Professional Services licenses many businesses. Still, there are statutes on the books to which condominiums must adhere. That said, there is much more state legislatures could do to minimize the problems you experienced. They could start by requiring a license.
Several national organizations work toward quality improvement in the 350,000 HOA communities throughout the nation. I am linking you to two I found on an internet search for "HOA organizations."
HOA-USA.com directs you to Wisconsin Statutes here. A second organization named the Community Association Institute has a chapter in Wisconsin here. I want to be clear that I am not endorsing either organization listed here. Consider asking what they are doing to get legislatures to act.
Researching organizations like the ones identified above may lead you to other resources that can offer guidance, short of seeking legal redress with your resources. Another option is mediation, which can occasionally turn a reluctant board from combatant to conciliatory. Your description of the HOA's current responses suggests that it may be unlikely.
Here is a Dear Monty article about a recently published HOA issue that may offer more information.
Richard Montgomery is the author of "House Money: An Insider's Secrets to Saving Thousands When You Buy or Sell a Home." He advocates industry reform and offers readers unbiased real estate advice. Follow him on Twitter at @dearmonty, or at DearMonty.com
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