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Real Estate Experts Share Home Ownership Horror Stories You Need to Hear

Surprise fees and shocking rules left these HOA homeowners in the lurch.

When you dream about owning your own home, you probably envision it in fantasy form, complete with ample space, high ceilings, tasteful decor, and endless curb appeal. Of course, the realities of homeownership can be much more complicated than the fantasy lets on—especially if you buy within a homeowners association (HOA) that has any surprising rules or regulations. In fact, real estate experts say that in their experience, bubble-bursting horror stories are all too common in HOA communities. Read on for the worst HOA tales they've come across while working in the field.

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The one with the invasive security cameras.

installing home security camera
APChanel / Shutterstock

The first real estate expert we spoke to relayed a story in which an HOA board kept its residents under high surveillance—or at least retained the right to do so.

"The most shocking thing I've ever seen in an HOA agreement was at a place in Florida. I was working with someone who was considering moving there, and she wanted to know if the community allowed security cameras," shares Martin Orefice, a real estate expert and CEO of Rent to Own Atlanta. "It turns out that not only did this community allow them, but the HOA board was also allowed, per the terms of the HOA agreement, to view any footage on any security camera in any resident's property at any time, for any reason."

When pressed about the concerning clause, the HOA explained that this was only to be used for criminal investigations, Orefice says: "It wasn't exactly reassuring, and only raised more questions than it answered. She didn't end up moving to that neighborhood."

The one with the unreasonable lawn rules.

grounds maintenance worker mowing lawn

When you join an HOA, you may forfeit the right to make certain choices about your own home or garden. Case in point: when one community put shocking restrictions on lawn height.

Dan Wallace, a real estate expert working with New Western, says he encountered a case where an HOA in Arizona enforced a rule requiring homeowners to maintain their lawn at a specific height.

"One of my clients received daily fines for each day their grass grew beyond the limit, which was only a couple of inches," he tells Best Life. "It culminated in an extraordinary expense and legal action before the requirement was found unreasonable in court. This not only cost the homeowner financially but also caused emotional distress over what many would consider a trivial matter."

He adds that this incident serves as a reminder to thoroughly read and understand HOA regulations before purchasing a property.

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The one with the forced foreclosure.

For Sale Real Estate Sign In Front of Property.

In some states, if you fail to pay HOA fees or fines, the organization can impose a lien on your property. This can have serious and permanent consequences for the homeowner.

"In some cases, HOAs have even been known to foreclose on homes due to unpaid fees or fines," says Alex Locklear, a real estate expert and founding member of NC Cash Homebuyers. "This can be devastating for homeowners who may not have been aware of the charges or were unable to pay them in time."

He adds that some HOAs have strict rental restrictions, which can be "a nightmare for investors who rely on rental income to cover their mortgage payments."

The one with impossible trash rules.

Man pulling a wheeled dumpster out of his garage while going to work

Ann Martin, director of operations of CreditDonkey, says she experienced her own HOA horror story when she purchased her first property.

"I'll never forget the ridiculous rule the HOA had at my first house out here in California. They had been experiencing issues with people leaving their trash cans by the side of the road for days, so they implemented a rule that trash cans needed to be put out no more than four hours before collection time, and brought back no more than four hours after," she shares.

"First of all, collection seemed to happen at all hours. One week, they would be by at 9 in the morning, the next they wouldn't come until 5," she continues. "Basically, you couldn't stay within the letter of the law unless you were home all day on trash day—and called the collection company to find out when the truck would be coming."

Chaos ensued as the HOA members began disregarding the rule completely. "This, of course, led to people raising the issue as a way of getting back at their neighbors. It was incredibly petty and annoying, and I'm even a little bit ashamed to say that I filed a trash complaint against one of my neighbors one day when they parked in my preferred spot on the street. That was the moment that I knew I had to get out of that neighborhood," Martin tells Best Life.

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The one with the non-regulation fence.

black front door
iStock / boblin

Whether it's a front door painted the "wrong" color or holiday decorations that neighbors view as "tacky," tight control of aesthetic choice is a common theme in stories of HOAs gone wrong.

"The most horror story I have come across was a couple who had bought their dream home in a gated community. Everything seemed perfect until one day they received a notice from the HOA saying that their backyard fence was not allowed and they had to remove it immediately," says Locklear.

"The couple had spent thousands of dollars on this fence, which was approved by the city council, and now they were being told to take it down without any explanation," Locklear adds. "After a long legal battle, it was discovered that the previous HOA board had changed the rules without notifying the homeowners."

Ben Gold, founder of Recommended Home Buyers, says that these stories underscore the need for transparency and clear communication within HOAs to avoid such unsettling scenarios.

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Lauren Gray
Lauren Gray is a New York-based writer, editor, and consultant. Read more
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