More than 1,000 Horry County homeowners made their way to Horry Georgetown Technical College Wednesday night to hear and voice to members of the county’s legislative delegation a litany of complaints against homeowners associations.
Most carried a common thread of association boards, developers and management companies who didn’t follow the development’s regulations, didn’t take homeowners’ concerns seriously, changed rules at will, enforced rules arbitrarily and retaliated against homeowners who complained too loudly or too much.
They talked of being fined if cars parked in their driveways blocked sidewalks when no parking was allowed on streets, the absence of association documents before closing, the money charged to see them when they could get copies, not being allowed to email or telephone board members, the lack of open board meetings, inability to get current or accurate financial records and other problems in the communities where they live.
“I’m sick of hearing our HOA is a government,” said Jerry Hay of Hillsborough. “They actually advertise themselves as a government. It’s just a power trip.”
Some said they’ve been fighting for years to get their associations to follow their own rules and the laws of South Carolina. Legislators last conducted similar HOA hearings statewide about three years ago.
Sandra Porter of the Villas at Ocean Keyes talked about paying a lawyer thousands of dollars to try to make her association do what it should. That didn’t get anywhere, so she said the situation will be addressed in a lawsuit that will cost thousands more.
Her message to other attendees, she said, “At some point, you have to pony up” if you want to resolve problems.
Ellen Elliott, president of the Myrtle Trace Homeowners Association, said similar problems don’t exist in the subdivision where she lives.
“I think it may be because we are self-managed,” she said.
She said Myrtle Trace rules, regulations and other documents are available on its website.
Porter said that some type of mandated internal mediation might help resolve some of the angst many of those at the meeting seemed to be feeling.
She agreed that board member training would be a good thing, but she’s against an overarching bill that tries to do too much.
She said she believed that issues should be dealt with in separate bills, which members of the delegation have said they believe the best strategy with legislation they likely will introduce in the session that convenes in January.
Rep. Nelson Hardwick, R-Surfside Beach and the Horry delegation chairman, said members feel that a good way to have association rules available to current members as well as prospective buyers would be to require that they be posted on a county website.
Other members of the delegation also want to designate Magistrate’s Court as the place where homeowners and associations can go to try to resolve disputes. The advantage, Sen. Greg Hembree, R-North Myrtle Beach, has said, are that the cost would be much lower than hiring an attorney and that magistrates are accustomed to hearing disputes from people who aren’t legally trained.
Legislators also got a thick collection of complaints that have been filed on the website of the Coastal Carolinas Association of Realtors, which will forward them to the state Realtors association which has said it will get them to other legislators.
Delegation members will discuss what they heard at their next delegation meeting and decide their strategy to addressing the problems in the upcoming session.
Sen. Luke Rankin, R-Myrtle Beach, said legislators last conducted HOA hearings statewide about three years ago and that those concerns he heard Wednesday are different.
“There’s a strong common theme that is louder now than when we first took this up,” he said.
That theme: lack of oversight.
“There’s no democratic process here,” Rankin characterized what the many speakers said at the hearing. “It’s the few governing the majority.”