NPR did a great piece the other day uncovering a little known law that has caused 10 percent of Texas’s foreclosures. It is part of a trend of new investigative pieces on foreclosures not caused by unpaid mortgages, but by other unpaid bills, from water bills to Homeowner Association (HOA) fees. This one was triggered by a disturbing story in a regional daily.
When Capt. Michael Clauer flew home from Iraq, where he commanded a Army National Guard unit that escorted convoys, he arrived home to find his $315,000 house sold twice, first in foreclosure for a mere $3,201 and then soon after for $135,000, the Dallas Morning Newsreported. Far from being behind on his mortgage, Clauer and his wife May had already paid off their debt on their house in Frisco, a suburb of Dallas.
An obscure Texas law that gives HOAs the right to foreclose when members do not pay their dues allowed the Clauer’s HOA to foreclose after the couple failed to make two payments, $977.55 in total — all without going before a judge. NPR followed up with an investigation, revealing that “in 33 states, an HOA does not need to go before a judge” to foreclose on a house. In Texas, HOA-instigated foreclosures account for a stunning 10 percent of total foreclosures in the state. That is more than 1,625 foreclosures in the Greater Dallas area since the New Year, as The Dallas Morning News reported.
In Texas, many have been calling for reform that makes these foreclosures more difficult, if not illegal. But legislation has been stalled in the Texas Senate. NPR’s investigation revealed that part of the legislative roadblock has been caused by Sen. John Carona, representative of Dallas. In addition to his seat in the senate, NPR reports, Carona “owns the largest HOA management company in the country — Associa, which has more than 100 officies, 6,000 employees and 7,000 HOA clients in 30 states and Mexico.” While there are reports of HOA boards buying the houses they foreclosed on for pennies on the dollar — a completely legal act within current Texas law — Carona sees that as the type of thing “an association can avoid by adopting conflict-of-interest rules,” he said to NPR.
The Clauers are lucky. They are currently in the process of getting their house back, because of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, a federal law passed in 2003 that makes non-judicial foreclosures of active duty service members illegal. Unfortunately, for the many who have been foreclosed upon who are not service members, lifelong savings have been lost in mere months.