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Tag Archives: HOA

Missouri appeals court reverses trial court, slaps down bank that manipulated HOA


The Missouri Supreme Court, on June 30, 2015, reversed much of this Court of Appeals decision discussed in this post, reinstating the judgment of the trial court, after determining that Jefferson Bank’s amendment of the covenants was proper. The amendment removed the requirement that the HOA’s board members be residents; the Supreme Court reasoned that unanimous consent of the lot owners was not required since the nature of the amendment was to remove rather than add a restriction.

After the real estate bubble burst, many Missouri banks ended up owning a majority of lots in subdivisions, standing in the shoes of the developers–the banks’ previous customers. Banks face many challenges in their effort to sell the lots that they had to take through foreclosure; not the least is high-end architectural standards imposed by the original developer that seem unworkable in this more austere era.

Jefferson Bank & Trust found itself in this fix after it became the owner of 13 of the 18 lots in the Arbors at Sugar Creek subdivision. In 2005, the developer had recorded covenants that gave the board of the homeowners’ association (HOA) approval rights over any new construction. The owners of the five existing homes  protested when the bank and its new partner proposed to build what the homeowners characterized as “tract houses.”

Because the original HOA had been dissolved by the Missouri Secretary of State for failing to file annual reports, the bank formed a new HOA and recorded a new declaration of covenants, since it had more than 67% of the voting power, as required by the old declaration for amendment. The new declaration eliminated the old declaration’s requirement that HOA board members be residents, and the bank appointed its executives to be the new board.

After a bunch of wrangling in court, the trial court ruled that the new HOA was legitimate, that the new board acted reasonably in approving the new building plans, asking that the HOA reimburse the bank for subdivision maintenance costs paid by the bank, and awarding other damages against the lot owners.

The appeals court in this October 28, 2014 decision, agreed that the new HOA was the successor to the old HOA, but threw out the rest of the trial court’s judgment, to find that the bank acted in bad faith, having

  • relied on its acquisition of majority voting power to unilaterally deny homeowners the benefit of self-governance that they received under the original declaration
  • used its command of the subdivision’s affairs to advance in own financial interest in redeveloping the subdivision in a manner contrary to the wishes of the newly disenfranchised residents
  • violated the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing by amending the declaration and removing the residency requirement for board members so it could appoint its own executives to the board.

Having stacked the board of the new HOA, the appeals court ruled “all the board’s subsequent actions are null and void,” including the approval of development plans submitted by the bank’s partner.

The critical factor here is the requirement of the original declaration that the HOA board members be residents. The overreaching on this issue tainted everything else that the bank did.

It’s unusual to see a court roll over a bank in favor of homeowners. My guess is that the Missouri Supreme Court will be asked to review this decision.

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Subdivision developer gets nailed for assessments and has no special developer rights


Missouri Western District Court of Appeals just affirmed a trial court’s judgment in a way that will resound with homeowners’ association (HOA) boards across the state, many of which are struggling to raise sufficient revenues to take care of streets and amenities, even though many of the developer-owned lands that benefit from the streets are apparently exempt from assessments.

Lenders that have foreclosed on developers may find that this opinion undermines the lenders’ ability to claim to enjoy the developer’s exemption from assessments on lender-owned land. Parties purchasing land from lenders, hoping to have the status of the former developer, may find themselves heavily in debt to the HOA, perhaps blaming the lenders who sold them the land.

In Woodglen Estates Association v. Dulaney, Dulaney obtained 17 parcels of land from the FDIC. This land had once been owned the original developer Braeman, then passed through the hands of a few different parties, before ending up with the FDIC, which had taken the parcels of land from a failed bank.

The Woodglen Estates Association hired an auditor to review its finances. The auditor discovered that land owned by Dulaney had not been assessed for several years. The association then sued Dulaney, and Dulaney asserted two defenses:

  • As successor to the original developer, Dulaney should be exempt from assessments on land it owned.
  • Much of the land that Dulaney owned in Woodglen was in “parcels,” not having been subdivided into “units,” so that it should not be assessed.

The appellate court looked at the line of Missouri case law that holds that the special rights and privileges of a developer, typically reserved in the declaration of covenants for the subdivision, do not automatically pass with ownership of the developer’s real estate. These rights, called “developer rights,” “declarant rights” or “development rights,” may be assigned, but a party claiming to hold these rights has to be able to prove to have acquired them by assignment. Dulaney had no proof of assignment of declarant rights.

To make matters worse for Dulaney, the Woodglen declaration did not contain an exemption for the developer’s real estate–which is a common feature of declarations–and the appellate court noted that developers do not receive an automatic exemption. Under current Missouri law, other than in condominiums, a developer may lawfully reserve an exemption from assessment for its own real estate. The original developer simply failed to create the exemption when filing the declaration and made the mistake of including land in the declaration that was not ready to be developed.

Dulaney argued that its “parcels” were not subject to assessment, since only “units” and “unit owners’ could be assessed. The appellate court noted that some of the declaration’s provisions were ambiguous when addressing the respective rights of owners of units and parcels, but the assessment provisions were clear:  “each owner shall be obligated to pay to the Board such sum as shall have been established….,” without distinguishing between owners of units and parcels. The legal description attached to the declaration had included Dulaney’s parcel, placing this land under the provision of the declaration.

For lenders, the lesson is that any loan documents for a development loan should include a security interest in the declarant rights, and any documents showing the recovery of the developer’s real estate should include a specific assignment of the declarant rights. When the lender sells the former developer’s property, the conveyances to the purchaser should include the assignment of declarant rights. These issues are covered in more detail in this essay.

HOA needs to get the owner’s name right to collect assessments


Whenever a homeowner association (HOA) gives me an account for collection, the first thing I do is verify the name in which the lot or unit is held. Frequently, the books of the HOA show owner as an individual or couple, often with a nickname.

Failure to keep track of the name in which property is held can defeat a claim for assessments, as shown in River Oaks Homes Association v. Lounce, a case that originated in Jackson County, Missouri.

The HOA obtained a judgment against Zeria Lounce, individually and as trustee of her living trust, for several years’ worth of delinquent assessments. Lounce appealed to the Western District of the Missouri Court of Appeals, claiming that the trial court erred in finding her personally liable and in finding the trust liable.

The River Oaks covenants provided that assessments were secured by a lien against the lot assessed and were also a personal obligation of  “the person who was the Owner of such property at the time when the assessment fell due.” Fifteen months after purchasing her townhouse in River Oaks in 1993, Lounce conveyed it to her living trust, with herself as trustee.

Nobody paid the assessments after 2004, and the HOA sued Lounce in her individual capacity. After filing suit, the HOA discovered that Lounce had put the property in the name of her trust and added Lounce, as trustee, as a defendant in the suit. Because the covenant provided for the personal liability of the Owner only, the court of appeals reversed the judgment against Lounce, as an individual.

The court of appeals didn’t let the trust off the hook, stating that the payment obligation ran with the ownership of the property, regardless of whether the HOA was aware of the change in ownership.

Here are the lessons for associations:

  • Pay attention to the county records of ownership. The county assessors’ websites (in most counties in Missouri) are a fairly reliable place to look for the names in which property is held; the recorder’s office is the best authority, though not always the most accessible online. This is important for making sure the proper parties are casting votes in elections, as well as for collections.
  • Ask your collection agency or lawyer to confirm the owners’ identities when preparing liens, sending demand letters and filing collection suits.

Carelessness about ownership can result in the loss of the ability to collect, shifting the burdens to the paying members of the HOA.

 

 

The defunct HOA problem continues in Missouri, legislation needed urgently


Homeowner associations (HOAs) are given responsibility by recorded subdivision and condominium documents for maintaining, insuring and operating private communities’ common properties, such as streets, drinking water systems, sewer collection and treatment systems, and recreation facilities.

With many developers having abandoned projects before the HOA is operated by residents, the residents and other lot or unit owners (such as lenders that have foreclosed) are often faced with HOAs that cannot properly Read the rest of this entry

Styron & Shilling’s HOA database project


Suppose you are buying a home in a subdivision. You don’t see many occupied houses in the subdivision, which is not in a city or town. But you see a water wellhouse and storage tank and maybe an odd looking structure that must be a sewer treatment plant or pumping station. You don’t see any signs indicating that these belong to a local government entity. You wonder who maintains the streets, the water system and the sewer system. The answer is that a homeowners’ association (HOA) is responsible for maintenance and operation of these essential facilities.

But where is the HOA?  You can’t find it in the phone book or on the internet. The public records are sketchy. Read the rest of this entry

HOA trustees can enforce covenants, even though they didn’t have annual meetings


If you want to stop a homeowners association from collecting assessments or enforcing restrictions, often the best tactic is to smear the HOA.

Here’s how the smear works. Read the rest of this entry

Defunct HOAs: what to do?


Outside of incorporated cities in the Ozarks, the homeowner association (HOA) is often the government for homes in subdivisions and condominiums. The clean water rules enforced by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources include HOAs as eligible “continuing authorities” to own and operate drinking water or sewer facilities, or both, in subdivisions not served by public utility companies regulated by the Public Service Commission or by governmental providers. In addition, the HOAs often have the responsibility of maintaining subdivision streets unless and until the county commission adopts an ordinance to maintain the streets.

HOAs are ordinarily established by the subdivision developer, in order to obtain permits for sewer or water facilities and to create an entity for road maintenance. An HOA’s power to collect assessments from lot owners (or unit owners, in the case of condominiums) is established by the recording of subdivision covenants (usually called CCRs or a declaration). The HOA is almost always set up as a non-profit corporation, with the developer and the developer’s associates making up the initial board of directors.

Even under the best of circumstances, the developer fails to file annual reports for the HOA with the Missouri Secretary of State, and the HOA, as a corporation, is administratively dissolved. When few lots are sold, that also happens. And there are worse omissions and consequences: Read the rest of this entry

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