A window fight costs a man $50 a day :: WRAL.com
Cary, North Carolina – North Carolina homeowners associations have enough power to take over a home if a homeowner starts racking up fines.
It is the fear of a resident of Cary, Andy Cheng, who receives a fine of 50 dollars a day because of his windows.
“It wasn’t in the ARC. It wasn’t in the guidelines,” Cheng said of the newly implemented window rules. “It was added last year.”
The HOA rule change came 18 months after new windows were installed in the front of her home.
Even more frustrating for Cheng, he contacted the Carpenter Village management company to see if he needed HOA board approval before installing the windows. In an email exchange Cheng provided to WRAL Investigates, the management company said that as long as the window frame and trim remained the same, no approval was needed.
More than a year after that email exchange, the Carpenter Village Association decided that because the new windows didn’t have grilles, they broke the rules. When Cheng told the board about his email exchange, they didn’t budge.
“They said the email statement was wrong,” Cheng said.
Cheng also points out that other houses in the neighborhood, including that of a board member, have also installed new windows without grilles. He says the board has been stricter with him.
“Why (are you) treating me so aggressively, different from other owners? ” He asked.
However, Cheng thinks he has an answer.
“I think I have a reasonable doubt that race is a determining factor unless a convincing explanation from the HOA can be provided,” Cheng told WRAL Investigates.
Cheng hired attorneys and filed a lawsuit in January alleging violations of the Fair Housing Act, which protects against discrimination. The complaint also asks the court to tell the HOA to stop enforcing any window grill requirements against the Chengs, and to impose fines and possibly seize their home. It’s a big expense, but one that Cheng feels is worth it.
“For me, it’s not about money or windows, it’s about principle,” he said.
Lawyers for the management company responded to Cheng in the window battle by writing, “Contrary to any suggestion in your letter…we believe that the architectural control provisions of the Declaration would encompass changes in the style of the windows which are clearly visible from the outside.
It’s a very different message than he got when he asked that same company if it needed board approval. Cheng says he supports the idea of HOAs in general. However, he feels his board of directors is irrelevant.
“If they do things legally, follow the rules, follow the guidelines, treat everyone the same, that’s fine with me,” Cheng said. “We can’t let this abuse of power continue. Today it was me, tomorrow it will happen to you.”
North Carolina courts have a history of siding with homeowner associations in legal battles. However, that is only if the associations follow strict guidelines when it comes to informing homeowners of possible fines and liens on their homes.
In a recent case from the western part of our state, the North Carolina Court of Appeals ruled that an association failed to exercise due diligence in contacting a landlord who had temporarily moved. The association eventually seized and sold the house. The court ruled that the association had to reimburse the owner because it had only sent notices by post despite the owner’s email address.