In the News: VA Passes Homeowners Bill of Rights

By Antonio Olivo

Homeowners Bill of Rights legislation unanimously passes Virginia house

Legislation protecting property owners from overzealous homeowners associations passed the Virginia House of Delegates unanimously Thursday, action that sends it to Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s (D) desk for approval.

State Sen. Chap Petersen (D-Fairfax), sponsor of the bill known as the “Homeowners’ Bill of Rights,” which sailed through the Senate last month, said the legislation puts into one place measures that are already available to Virginia property owners through various state statutes and court rulings.

Among them are the right to inspect all books and records kept by a homeowners’ association, the right to due process during a dispute with an HOA and the right to cast a vote on matters affecting one’s neighborhood.

Petersen said he pursued the legislation after receiving complaints from homeowners who were caught up in fights with homeowners’ associations that appeared to be over-aggressively enforcing their covenants.

“Homeowners’ associations have really become the newest form of government, particularly in Northern Virginia,” Petersen said. “I don’t see why someone living in any community should give up their rights. They should have the right to participate in how it’s governed. They’re paying dues. It’s their money.”

Perhaps surprisingly given the heated nature of some disputes related to homeowners associations in Virginia, the bill had no opposition.

Bill Barfield, a vice president of the Fairfax County Federation of Citizens Associations, agreed that some homeowners’ groups that are part of the umbrella organization are overly aggressive.

“For every color of the rainbow, there’s an HOA with its own internal problems,” said Barfield, noting that they arise because the groups are usually run by a small group of volunteers while other members choose not to participate. “Perhaps every citizens’ association or HOA should have more turnover in its officers and board.”

Flora Nicholas, a resident of Reston, said her local homeowners’ association unfairly fined her for what she described as fabricated violations after she and her neighbors complained about how the Reston Association handled another complaint.

“It’s a horror story,” said Nicholas, who said she had liens placed on her house totaling about $1,000 for citations she received about her house gutters and other problems.

Cate Fulkerson, chief executive officer of the Reston Association, declined to discuss that case.

But, she said, her organization is in favor of the “Bill of Rights” legislation.

“Providing our members with a fair hearing and an opportunity to have the rules given to them and have them understand them is in­cred­ibly important to us,” Fulkerson said.

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