By Sarah Max, CNN/Money staff writer
BEND, Ore. (CNN/Money) Three years after moving into a new 4,700-square-foot home in Brook Hills, a gated community near San Diego, Sonni and James Bass are caught up in an expensive legal battle with their homeowners association.
Brook Hills is suing the Basses, who are returning the favor with a countersuit. Why? The association says they took too long to do their landscaping. Plus, they installed a light on their tennis court without approval.
"All my clients have tried to do is enforce the rules," said Michael Kim, an attorney with Peters & Freedman, the firm that represents Brook Hills and about 500 other homeowners associations.
The board tried to resolve things peacefully, he argued, by giving the couple extra time to do their landscaping and sending a letter asking the Basses to "please remove" the light.
"Anyone who did extensive landscaping took more than a year," countered Sonni Bass. "I'm the only one who's being sued." As for the light on the tennis court, she said, "the board president threatened to remove it with a jackhammer."
The squabble may sound familiar, because disputes just like it are happening across the United States.
About one in six Americans lives in an association-managed community, according to the Community Association Institute (CAI). An estimated four out of five houses built since the late 1990s are governed by a homeowners association.
As more people move to such places, the adage that fences make good neighbors no longer seems relevant. In fact, your neighbors might not let you even put up a fence.
Living by the rules
The primary purpose of a homeowners association is to manage a neighborhood's common areas such as roads, parks and pools. Homeowners are obligated to pay dues which can be anything from $100 to $10,000 a year, depending on the neighborhood and its amenities.