Homeowner associations are a hot topic. Having dealt with them for decades as an attorney and as a Realtor, I think buyers like you might want to know what I’ve learned so you can protect yourself when you buy a home or condo.

I would classify homeowner associations in three categories. First, are the rural homeowner associations that do nothing. They may have a common road, but they have no club, no other facilities, and no dues other than a small annual road maintenance fee. Their board exists but doesn’t have to do much, and the President of the HOA (homeowners association) is a very nice person who willingly took the position but didn’t really want it. He took it because someone has to do it. My experience tells me that in a rural area, this kind of HOA makes up about 70% of the associations. I’m in a HOA like this, and I am so grateful for our president and the board members for all they do. I love living in my neighborhood, and the fact that contentious HOA issues are conspicuously missing is a huge plus for me.

homeowner associations

Second, are the busy homeowner associations with facilities and common property that needs to be maintained, and business that needs to be addressed every week or every other week. The president and the board members are a little more sophisticated than the small rural HOA that doesn’t have to do anything, but even these board members typically don’t have much, if any, experience related to running homeowner associations. They are usually people with professional careers, so they often have related experience and they learn what they don’t know. They are usually kind and truly want to help the homeowners enjoy life in their neighborhood. The president of this kind of HO is a nice man or woman who is a leader with some management experience and is very sincere in doing a good job for everyone. Like the president in the first group, this president is not selfish or arrogant. He or she  is a considerate person, and the homeowners are blessed to have such a president. I’m estimating that in a rural area, this group makes up about 25% of the HOAs.

Homeowner Associations Gone Wild

Third, and I’ve saved the nightmare for last, are the homeowner associations with a Hitler for president. This president could be either a man or woman, but oddly enough it is nearly always a man. Thank God this group in a rural area only includes about 5% of the total number of HOAs. Unfortunately, because this group tends to be larger, it typically includes and affects a lot more homeowners than the other smaller groups. What makes this one a nightmare?

In most residential neighborhoods, the vast majority of people are busy living their lives and minding their own business. They have families to take care of, careers to attend to, and even retirees find ways to fill their time every day of the week. Such good people are not thinking, “I want to be president of the HOA. I want to be in charge here.” In fact, that’s the last thing on their minds.

There is another kind of personality that does strive to become the next HOA president. He wants it. He needs it. He has a deep need for recognition, for power, for control, and he can be ruthless in pressing his agendas. I’ve seen this president in a number of homeowner associations over the past four decades, and it is so unpleasant for the majority of homeowners. I wish this kind of profile was not real, but believe me, this is a very real profile, and you probably ought to at least be aware of this president if you are planning to buy a home in a neighborhood where he is president.

There is a personality profile defined as the “narcissistic personality disorder.” Here is how the Mayo Clinic describes it:

Narcissistic personality disorder — one of several types of personality disorders — is a mental condition in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance, a deep need for excessive attention and admiration, troubled relationships, and a lack of empathy for others. But behind this mask of extreme confidence lies a fragile self-esteem that’s vulnerable to the slightest criticism.

Signs and symptoms of narcissistic personality disorder and the severity of symptoms vary. The Mayo Clinic continues. People with the disorder can:

  • Have an exaggerated sense of self-importance
  • Have a sense of entitlement and require constant, excessive admiration
  • Expect to be recognized as superior even without achievements that warrant it
  • Exaggerate achievements and talents
  • Be preoccupied with fantasies about success, power, brilliance, beauty or the perfect mate
  • Believe they are superior and can only associate with equally special people
  • Monopolize conversations and belittle or look down on people they perceive as inferior
  • Expect special favors and unquestioning compliance with their expectations
  • Take advantage of others to get what they want
  • Have an inability or unwillingness to recognize the needs and feelings of others
  • Be envious of others and believe others envy them
  • Behave in an arrogant or haughty manner, coming across as conceited, boastful and pretentious
  • Insist on having the best of everything — for instance, the best car or office

At the same time, people with narcissistic personality disorder have trouble handling anything they perceive as criticism, and they can:

  • Become impatient or angry when they don’t receive special treatment
  • Have significant interpersonal problems and easily feel slighted
  • React with rage or contempt and try to belittle the other person to make themselves appear superior
  • Have difficulty regulating emotions and behavior
  • Experience major problems dealing with stress and adapting to change
  • Feel depressed and moody because they fall short of perfection
  • Have secret feelings of insecurity, shame, vulnerability and humiliation [Source: Mayo Clinic]

Far too many elderly couples, widows, widowers, as well as younger homeowners, have been subjected to homeowner associations with presidents that fit this description to a “T”. 

It’s a nightmare for homeowners when their president is suffering from narcissistic personality disorder. The president would never acknowledge that he has this mental problem, and who would tell him he suffers from the symptoms? If you did, he would probably take your head off!

This kind of president creates tremendous dissension and contentiousness over the term of his presidency. Get ready for the bad news. This kind of president wants to continue as president into the next term and the next. What a nightmare! By the way, this kind of president surrounds himself with board members who are sycophants and do whatever he wants them to do. Granted, he makes them think they are independent, but he is the master manipulator. If there are any board members who won’t join his dysfunctional team, he will eventually drive them off the board with all the dissension and viciousness.  Unfortunately, this kind of president also creates division by creating strong allies, and he divides and conquers within the HOA. He manages to turn some issues into heated issues and causes some homeowners to become enemies for life. Listen to me: this kind of president is poison to the entire neighborhood.

Homeowner Associations – What To Do?

So what can you do? First, be aware that there are such dysfunctional people running homeowner associations. Second, do your due diligence when you’re shopping for a home and find out what’s going on in the HOA and how the president conducts himself. Talk to some of the homeowners to get the inside scoop. Third, realize there’s nothing you can do if there is such a president. No one wants to run against them. No one wants to fight all the time with such a contentious person, who apparently thrives on such conflict. He may pretend he doesn’t, but he loves power and control, and any challenge to his kingdom will be met with an unpleasant personal attack.

Fourth, the only thing that really works is to vote against any inappropriate action he wants to take. Rally the homeowners to vote the way they feel is in their best interests, and be a support and encouragement to elderly folks who do not do well with conflict. 

If you live in one of the 95% HOAs, count your blessings. If you live in the 5% dictatorship, I have empathy for you. You’ll have to learn to live with it while you rally votes to stand against the dictator’s own agendas, which are often hidden and full of self-interest.

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