‘You broke us.’ GA lawmakers to rein in aggressive HOAs after hearing homeowner horror stories

HOA nightmares are one of the most frequent calls into the Channel 2 Action News investigative tipline.

Now there are new bipartisan efforts by state lawmakers to look at how to rein in homeowner associations that go too far.

Channel 2 consumer investigator Justin Gray looked into how an HOA can take your house in Georgia.

He found you can be up to date on your mortgage, never missed a loan payment, and lose your home to foreclosure by your HOA.

Each month Karyn Gibbons mailed a check for HOA dues on her Gwinnett County condo to the address provided in writing at closing.

But she said she never knew when or if it would be cashed.

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“It was just random. I mean there’d be two, three, four, five months go in between checks being cashed,” said Gibbons.

Then out of the blue she was served with a notice of foreclosure by her HOA.

With late fees and thousands of dollars in attorney fees, she owed more than $30,000.

“Did you even know you could be foreclosed on by an HOA?” Gray asked Gibbons.

“No. Never heard of it,” Gibbons said.

“It’s totally insane. It’s totally insane,” said Tricia Quigley, a former Cherokee County homeowner.

She learned it can happen the hard way.

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When Quigley’s Cherokee County home of 18 years was sold at foreclosure on the courthouse steps for about the amount of spare change on her coffee table as Gray interviewed her.

“It went for $3.25,” Quigley said.

She admitted she did not pay two of her biannual homeowner association dues payments totaling $800.

She ended up paying more than $10,000 trying to get right with the HOA but the late fees and attorney fees kept growing.

“I kept thinking I paid all this money; how come it’s not stopping?” Quigley said.

A big reason is attorney costs.

Every email, every inquiry, every attempt to contest, fix, or even pay the overdue bill adds to the bill.

By the time Juliet Graham finally sold her downtown Atlanta condo her HOA bill had reached $250,000.

“You broke us. We’re broke,” Graham said.

Channel 2 Action News checked foreclosure records and found that just two metro Atlanta law firms that specialize in representing HOAs have filed 279 notices seeking damage and foreclosure notices in just the past three years.

“I can’t imagine the mafia having been any worse than what my experience was with this,” Graham said.

State Senator Donzella James, a Democrat who represents South Fulton County, introduced multiple bills this legislative session trying to reign in overly aggressive HOAs.

“People need to be protected and safeguarded against foreclosures,” said State Senator James.

“This is where I resodded the whole thing,” said James McAdoo, a homeowner in South Fulton County.

The only way he could stop his HOA from intercepting his paycheck was by filing for bankruptcy.

“They garnished my wages,” McAdoo said.

He owes $36,000 and counting predominantly because of weeds in his front yard.

They were garnishing $600 from his paycheck every two weeks until he started the bankruptcy process.

“What way do you see out of this?” Gray asked McAdoo.

“Selling my home and just getting out of this neighborhood,” McAdoo said.

That is what Karyn Gibbons did earlier this year even though she still does not believe she did anything wrong.

“I just said enough. I can’t do it anymore,” Gibbons said.

She paid $34,000 in fines, interest, and attorney fees to end the nightmare.

“I don’t know how it’s legal,” Gibbons said.

And it’s not just happening to homeowners. Gray also spoke with a couple who said just because they were renting a home, they were not safe from an HOA.

Jasmine Latson and Jaquan Hunter said their HOA in their South Fulton neighborhood came after them over the condition of their yard.

They ended up hiring a lawn service to take care of everything. But that wasn’t enough for the HOA.

“I was like, maybe it’s me. Maybe I’m not doing good enough, I don’t know. So I went ahead and just hired an outside resource that my neighbor used. He’s been pretty consistent and good, but the fines keep happening,” Latson said.

Last year, they received a foreclosure letter saying the home’s owners owed fines and fees of more than $23,000.

“Never, never in a million years would I have thought that I would have would be dealing with this. You know? I pay my rent every month,” Latson said.

First Key Homes, Latson, and Hunter’s landlord negotiated down the fines to about $12,000 to prevent foreclosure. But the company has now passed that bill onto the couple along with an eviction notice.

Latson has fired an attorney and has a court date set for Friday.

Now, these renters are hoping state lawmakers can do something about these aggressive HOAs.

A bipartisan bill sponsored by state senator and Rules Committee Chair Matt Brass, a Republican representing Newnan, did pass at the Gold Dome this year to create a study committee examining how to change laws to better protect homeowners.

Brass told Gray the No. 1 topic on the study committee’s agenda will be HOA foreclosures that he said are taking families’ generational wealth.

“To have some outside group come and take that away from me is again, it’s un-American. And we’re not going to stand for it in this state,” Brass said.

Several states have put in place laws limiting HOA foreclosure.

That legislative study committee is expected to start its work likely in late summer.

Brass expects potential bills for the next session to come from the committee.

As chair of the powerful rules committee that decides what bills get a vote on the floor those potential reforms have a bill ally with Brass.

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