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Nature path garden leads to HOA dispute

People who live in Orange County communities with homeowners' associations and other types of governing boards may find that even pleasant enhancements lead to community disputes. For example, a family living near a desert nature walk and trail in Mesa, Ariz., are engaged in just such a battle over enhancements they have added between their backyard and the walking path. The nature trail is part of the Dreamland Villas Retirement Community, where the couple lives.

While the retirement community is not governed by an HOA, it has a governing board with responsibility for common areas that belong to the community as a whole. The retirement community consists of around 3,700 houses, all owned by people aged 55 and older. The board manages the strip of desert land converted into the nature trail. It attracts walkers, joggers, birders and others looking for outdoor recreation, and the board created regulations to govern its operation. However, the board does not have the authority to levy fines on homeowners that violate the rules because it is not an HOA.

The issue began when the family started to expand their desert garden landscaping from their backyard toward the walking trail. They installed tables and benches as well as signs inviting visitors to relax in the area. However, because the decorations sit outside the family's property, they have become the subject of neighborhood debate and a threat to remove the items by the board. While board members have asked for rent for the extra space, other neighbors have signed a petition for the garden to remain in place.

When people buy a home, they often expect to enjoy a great deal of autonomy over their property. However, HOA rules can lead to serious disputes, especially if an overzealous board is involved. A lawyer can help a homeowner resolve HOA disputes and avoid litigation.

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