Sick of Your HOA?

Local professor posits that you may be sick because of it

Homeowners Associations are about as divisive as Jersey Shore—you either love Snooki or you hate her, and it seems people either love living in a neighborhood with an HOA, or they hate it.

Dr. Gary Solomon, a resident of Henderson, is definitely on the “hate” side of the HOA divide. For the last two years, the psychology professor at the College of Southern Nevada has been anecdotally studying the effects HOAs have on the people who live with their rules. And after talking with his neighbors, he’s coined a new term: “HOA Syndrome,” an anxiety disorder caused by living under the constant threat of harassment by one’s own HOA. At the same time, Solomon started, which encourages sufferers of these so-called HOA-related maladies to contact a lawyer to see if they’re entitled to damages for the duress they’ve been living under.

In discussing HOAs, Solomon tends toward the hyperbolic, referring to board members as Nazis, kapos (Nazi collaborators) and elder abusers. His disdain of HOAs isn’t born only of watching others suffer their wrath—it’s also personal. Solomon and his partner owe a heap of money for HOA infractions at his home in Calico Ridge.

“We’re up to $20,000,” he says.

He put up a wooden gate instead of a metal one, and that’s not allowed. And he remodeled his home without written approval from his HOA. He adds that he paid about $20,000 in lawyer fees to fight the charges. 

Solomon says that he doesn’t suffer from HOA Syndrome—a term that is not included in the official Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM IV), the bible of the American Psychiatric Association. “I’ve mainly been able to stand back and watch as other people have it,” he says. “I’ve seen a great deal of depression, sadness, stress, irritable bowel syndrome. A wide range of problems.”

Skim the symptoms on his website and you might find that we’re all certifiable, whether we live in an HOA or not: irritability, fatigue, restlessness, stress, body aches and pains, etc. And then there are the more targeted symptoms: fear of going to the mailbox, fear of your car being ticketed or towed, fear of your children playing outside, fear of losing a pet, loss of identity, intestinal problems/acid reflux and more. (He’s giving a talk on the topic 6-8 p.m. Oct. 15 at CSN in room C-133.)

Professor Robert J. Aalberts, who teaches legal studies at UNLV’s Lied Institute for Real Estate Studies, says that Solomon’s use of the word “syndrome” is a bit strong. In the 20 years Aalberts has lived in Las Vegas, people have always taken issue with homeowners associations. (There are some 2,500 of them here, after all.) But he agrees that with the current economy, the stakes have risen. “I think the economic crunch may be aggravating what’s always been there, and that accounts for the aggressiveness some of these HOAs have,” Aalberts says. “They probably have better reason to be aggressive now than they did before, because they’ve got to collect these fees. They need it because there’s a lack of money out there.”

David Stone says that Solomon’s pursuit is ultimately going to hurt HOA residents. Stone, who is president of Nevada Association Services Inc., an agency specializing in HOA collections, also lives in an HOA and has served on several HOA boards.

“I know that this is going to start up a cottage industry of nonsense tort claims against HOAs,” he says. “It’s going to cause insurance rates to go up and it’s going to cost people who live in the association that much more. I really hope associations fight this tooth and nail and they don’t roll over,” Stone says.

Stone points out that everyone living in an HOA moved there knowingly and signed the conditions, covenants and restrictions. And they all pay extra for that privilege.

“People in an association move there voluntarily because they enjoy the exclusivity or the pride of the living environment that is not shared in other areas of the city,” he says.

Stone says that he gladly pays association fees. “I get extra service for those fees. In other words, I get parks that are maintained. I get a pool. I get private streets.”

Stone says he likes the fact that his neighbors are required to bring their trash cans inside after a certain hour, and that they won’t leave their Halloween decorations up through March. “It’s more peaceful area to live in,” he says. “And if I was one of these people that didn’t care, live and let live, I would not live in a HOA. People move and live there for a reason.”

Of course, the same could be said for residents of New Jersey.