I-TEAM: HOA foreclosures draw attention of state lawmakers
by Joe Conger / KENS 5
SAN ANTONIO -- Its a scary situation, said Kimberlee Benes, whose dream of home ownership had become a nightmare.
View: I-Team Reports
Bexar County Foreclosures Map
It began in 2009, when her home ownership was quickly followed by a divorce. Late fees for her missed assessment followed. Trouble is, the late notices were NOT sent to herthe primary person on the deed-- but her ex-husband. And the debt climbed.
Benes said: These people just swoop in and take what people work for.
Benes was placed on a payment plan that took months to settle-up: A plan where the HOAs attorneys act as the debt collector, too, charging fees. Fees were issued for verifying addresses, sending demand letters, and researching owners.
Benes wonders how the research went, given that she left a forwarding address, verified by the Postal Service, but still received no notices until the threats of foreclosure.
Theyre just not willing to budge. You can tell them anything. You can provide them proof of everything that youre saying is legitimate, and all they want is their money, said Benes.
On Benes letterhead is Allen, Stein & Durbin, PC, a law firm representing close to 400 HOAs around San Antonio.
Tom Newton, who handles most of the firms cases, said Everybody expects people to pay their legitimate bills. Whether its mortgages, taxes, insurance or homeowners association assessment.
He said fail to pay that assessment, and HOAs can go for your house.
Research provided to the I-Team shows more than 1,800 homeowners were threatened with foreclosure by their HOAs since 2009, many of them through this firm. But only one in six homes actually ended up on the auction block.
Newton said it is evidence the system works to keep neighborhoods in good repair
and bills paid on time.
He said, Property owners associations are there to preserve property value. In terms of whether the fees that we charge are large or not, they are reasonable for the kind of work that we do.
But the payment plans these attorneys are using have captured the attention of Austin lawmakers.
HOA/homeowner relationships have spawned nearly 60 bills filed this session.
Janet Ahmad of the group Home Owners for Better Building said, They have been gouging people, with all of these fees. They are losing their homes; they are pricing people out of the market.
But Ahmad said no bills have made it through
and there are only two days left in the session.