The first thing I check for when looking at a property is an HOA.
If there is one, I move on.
Homeowner's Association Uses Chopper To Find Violations
HOUSTON -- Note: The following story is a verbatim transcript of a Troubleshooters story that aired on Monday, Nov. 6, 2006, on KPRC Local 2 at 10 p.m.
KPRC investigates another aggressive homeowners association in the Houston area.
A family is out thousands of dollars as they fight to save their home in court. Their HOA used some surprising methods to gather evidence against them, so tonight our investigative team turns the tables on that HOA, using the same tactics against them.
Local 2 investigative reporter Stephen Dean has the story from Montgomery County.
How far can a homeowner's association go in Texas? One expert says she's never seen tactics like this. When I met this family two years ago, they said they moved out here to Magnolia because the billboards said they could enjoy their horses. Now they could lose it all and they blame a vendetta and an HOA willing to spy on them from above.
From the air, just think of the stuff that's visible where you live. Imagine getting hit with a lawsuit from your homeowner's association for something that can only be seen from overhead.
"I feel it's wrong," homeowner Mark Spiva said. "Any time you have to take a helicopter to look in somebody's back yard, I think it's wrong."
That's right. The helicopter was working for his HOA. Spiva moved his family outside Magnolia because there's plenty of land for his kids to ride and for him to build sheds for his tools. Now, his HOA is suing him over an outside shed and the horses, using the helicopter to gather its evidence.
"I've tried to play by the rules, tried to do exactly what they wanted me to do, and they keep coming back on this stuff," Spiva said.
He said it's payback for his winning a battle years ago, embarrassing board members in front of all his neighbors. His HOA, the Clear Creek Forest Property Owners Association, sent him this violation notice with pictures of his back yard from above. He said the chopper was flying just above the treetops, blowing shingles up on his roof and terrifying his wife and daughter.
"They was flying real low. They was flying real low over the house and she could see a guy hanging out, taking pictures. Debbie got real scared and tried to run into the house," Spiva said.
The pictures show horses on the wrong side of a fence in an area they're not allowed. Now, the HOA is suing him, saying neighbors' property values are being affected by those horses, as well as the metal roof on his shed, and a gate on his driveway. The HOA says it got complaints.
"I think that's abuse. I think that's harassment," he said.
But the family wonders how it could get so many complaints when the only way to see it is if you rent a chopper to view it from above.
"It tells you that they had to go to great lengths to find the violation," said Shelby Moore, a law professor at South Texas College of Law.
Moore teaches classes on this subject. She was an expert witness on another famous HOA abuse case -- when Winona Blevins, 83, was tossed of the home she owned outright because she owed the HOA a few hundred dollars in maintenance fees.
Blevins got her home back in 2001.
"I've heard some pretty bad horror stories, but I've never, ever heard of an HOA taking money that homeowners are contributing, because that's the money you're spending, and flying over someone's home to find a violation," Moore said.
So, Local 2 Investigates put Newschopper2 in the air to investigate the HOA behind these high-flying tactics, but we stayed at a safe altitude.
The HOA president's house has all sorts of issues that could yield violation notices for anyone else -- boarded-up windows, a tractor parked so long that weeds are growing around it, a pickup that doesn't look it's going anywhere, and a metal-roof shed hidden behind a bigger shed. The same sort of thing the Spivas are now being sued for.
"That's pretty reprehensible," Moore said.
Johnnie Bryant, Jr., the HOA president, avoided answering our questions on camera. On the phone, he said his HOA doesn't routinely use a helicopter, but he insists the process is fair, and he claims even he's gotten violation notices about his property, too.
The Spiva family has now counter-sued his HOA, saying the driveway gates and metal roof were approved by the previous HOA board years ago.
"The barn was built to their specs. I mean, I had to give them every material that was being used in this barn," Spiva said.
No court date is set for the HOA's lawsuit or the family's counter-suit. Until the laws really are changed to protect homeowners, experts say the best way to fight aggressive HOAs is to organize your neighbors and vote the HOA board members out of power.
The first thing I check for when looking at a property is an HOA.
If there is one, I move on.
Well, in my area, every "neighborhood" has one, unless its a very old one. So, no choice. I have to pay $180 a year for my HOA fees.
I, too, have been stuck with a HOA of one sort or another. They're almost impossible to avoid up here, at least in any decent area that my wife would consider. One HOA, I fought against and won. I'm STILL winning by nominating my successor. I've effected some good changes and it's run for the better. At least not like when I first moved there. Other changes are in the works, all at my behest. There's a point when property rights trump what is good for the neighborhood.
To the story at hand, IF that helicopter actually DID blow shingles off the roof, then they should have been reported to the FAA. IIR, ( I may be mistaken because I'm not a pilot), it's 1000 ft AGL over residential areas. IF the pilot violated that, then they should pay the price. At 1000 ft AGL, nothing would blow anything around, even with an MH-53E. To report such violations, the victims need to obtain the side number of the aircraft, a description, and report it. Something tells me that much of this story is "garnished" with extremes and falsehoods. NO respectable pilot would violate FAA rules & regs.
The limits do vary for helicopters, however. This is why we can land on top of buildings, hospitals in urban areas.
Section 91.119: Minimum safe altitudes: General.
Except when necessary for takeoff or landing, no person may operate an aircraft below the following altitudes:
(a) Anywhere. An altitude allowing, if a power unit fails, an emergency landing without undue hazard to persons or property on the surface.
(b) Over congested areas. Over any congested area of a city, town, or settlement, or over any open air assembly of persons, an altitude of 1,000 feet above the highest obstacle within a horizontal radius of 2,000 feet of the aircraft.
(c) Over other than congested areas. An altitude of 500 feet above the surface, except over open water or sparsely populated areas. In those cases, the aircraft may not be operated closer than 500 feet to any person, vessel, vehicle, or structure.
(d) Helicopters. Helicopters may be operated at less than the minimums prescribed in paragraph (b) or (c) of this section if the operation is conducted without hazard to persons or property on the surface. In addition, each person operating a helicopter shall comply with any routes or altitudes specifically prescribed for helicopters by the Administrator
Mr P, that's why I couldn't remember for sure. Both the 500 and 1000 ft AGLs popped in my head. I had researched this issue a feww years ago when we had a bunch of low flying fixed winged aircraft flying over our semi-rural residential area. Having worked on Helicopters for most of my Navy career, I knew there were some exemptions for them. Obviously, if the helicopter did damage to that man's house, he operated it in violation of the FARs.
Using a helicopter is against the law when it comes to privacy issues. The pictures can't be used in court because the HOA is not a LE body and you can not use that type of means to obtain pics. The person who requested the picsshould be charged with peeping statues.
We have an HOA. When we first moved in the HOA wasn't people living here, it was actually a group formed by the people who built the complex. They banned my car from the complex three weeks after we moved in. I had a '92 Honda Accord station wagon that was in excellent condition. Being an old car and my first car I had decorated it with bumper stickers. Nothing with foul language or offensive statements, mostly local bands and things. But we got a letter stating that it was decided the car had to be parked outside the development. The only legal place to park other than my driveway was two miles away. I sent them a letter back stating: "We paid $250,000 for this house. I'll park my car in the driveway if I so desire. And if you don't like it, I will accept any car you decide to buy me." Plus some things my folks had recieved earlier. We never recieved any more letters from the HOA and the fines put on my parents were waved. But my parents had gotten letters stating the garbage can had to be out of view (meaning in the backyard, and seeing as both my parents are crippled, they couldn't physically haul this massive garbage can the HOA had forced them to use up a hill every garbage day), only one car was allowed to be in the driveway (two days after we moved in and there were too many boxes in the garage still to get cars in... we weren't even living in the house yet!), etc. So in my opinion, HOAs are a crock.
So much for property rights. To me it's a bunch of upity morons who want have a control problem.
tnoisaw, on the whole, you're pretty close. HOAs DO have their place as long as they are run with a moderate hand. There are some that DO exist that are good and fair. All in all, I see them as "social engineering" at best. I can only relate my last association and their existence to an area just a few blocks away. Our association had nice looking, well kept homes with nice yards. Just 6 blocks away, if that, were new homes that had junk in their yards, no yards, and ill-kempt houses. These houses were generally newer than the ones in the association. What that does is allow property values to be run down by the neighborhood slobs. There's things I like associations for, but there's things where they can easily get out of hand. At least during MY tenure as President of our last association, my association was run with a moderate hand. Gentle reminders, phone calls, etc were used instead of the intimidating letters that we first encountered. Some complaints went unaddressed, as they were usually without merit or violated property rights. Of course, our bigger problem was the older folks in the townhome community within the main association. They were a bunch of anal Yard Nazis.