When the caller on the other end of the phone asked her when she was moving out, Trenita Rogers thought it was a joke.
She’s owned her home in Pitt County for 12 years and even paid it off. So she was shocked when a man told her he bought it.
“I said, ‘I don’t know about that.’ And he said, ‘Yes, I bought your house in an upset offer and I need to know when you’re moving,'” Rogers recalled.
She quickly found out he wasn’t lying. In the district court, she found the paper showing her $413,000 home sold for just over $221,000.
The sale took place after the foreclosure of the property; Something Rogers said also happened without her knowledge.
This all stemmed from a $1,491 debt to an HOA that Rogers was unaware was a part of.
“I’ve been there for 12 years. I’ve never paid an HOA before. I’ve never been invited to an HOA,” Rogers said.
The debt was an accumulation of a decade’s worth of annual HOA fees.
Rogers said she would have paid the debt if she had known. Court records show that the HOA had filed liens against Rogers’ property for late fees in the past. A lien was deposited for the property in 2013 and 2017; both for unpaid HOA fees. Rogers claimed she was unaware.
That summer, Rogers finally got an eviction notice; has moved out of her home forever and is living with a friend.
“My life has become an open book,” Rogers said. But now she’s working to undo the last chapter.
Rogers hired Chapel Hill-based attorney Jim White to fight for her home.
“I told my daughter, I said, ‘Mom’s going to fight for this because that’s wrong,'” Rogers said.
White said Rogers received letters from a law firm, but she thought it was junk mail and the law required more notification.
“The HOA never served their complaint papers. They just didn’t do it and that’s fatal,” White said.
White explained that the papers for the foreclosure hearing were sent by registered mail, but instead of getting Rogers’ signature, the mailman just wrote C-19 for COVID-19 in place of the signature. This practice was used at the height of the pandemic to limit carrier exposure to the virus. Rogers claimed she never saw the postman’s documents.
“The law says you have to serve someone. You have to. If you sue someone, you have to make sure they’re notified,” White said. “The idea that someone could just owe someone’s house over $1,400 without turning heaven and earth to make sure they know just strikes me as wrong.”
The lawsuit, which White filed on Rogers’ behalf, says someone from the Pitt County Sheriff’s Office attempted to personally deliver a notice of the hearing twice last September, but they were “unsuccessful.”
Rogers’ HOA, Irish Creek Section 2 Owners Association, declined to comment on the matter, citing the pending lawsuit.
The attorney representing the seller who bought Roger’s home said that although Rogers never signed the official papers, the C-19 signature doesn’t mean she didn’t see them. The attorney also said his client bought the home in a competitive bidding process and was unable to access the home.
Rogers has a court date next month where she hopes to reverse the sale and foreclosure as she has not received notice.
Unfortunately, White said he continues to hear from customers with stories similar to Rogers’.
He has seen cases where clubs have foreclosed on a fully owned home for $250 in unpaid fees. In other cases, the HOA sent the invoices to the wrong address, resulting in late fees and then foreclosures.
“We’ve had so many situations with people; these are their neighbors, they knew where they lived. Someone could have knocked on the door. Someone could have called, and they didn’t,” White said.
White said the notification law is a big area where small changes in the law could make a difference.
“I think the problem is that there really is no such thing as a foreclosure defense by HOA in North Carolina. The law leans heavily in favor of homeowners’ associations,” White said.
He explained that HOAs have as much power in foreclosures as banks, meaning they don’t have to go before a judge.
While many HOA boards envision themselves as a group of troublesome neighbors, they’re often run by national management companies with no real connection to real estate.
“The law is designed to protect homeowners associations, not homeowners. The laws were written by lobbyists and attorneys for homeowners’ associations to make it easier for them to do the work they need to do,” said Jason Pickler, a senior attorney with the North Carolina Justice Center. “Consumer protection is not robust.”
And often, when the issue with the HOA isn’t beyond a large enough amount of money, homeowners can find it increasingly difficult to find an attorney to represent them.
Pickler also said there is also a lack of resources and education for people facing housing challenges.
“Unfortunately, even though your home is so important to you … and it’s your greatest asset, if someone tries to take that home away from you, it’s not criminal, it’s civil,” Pickler said. “So if you don’t have money to pay a lawyer, try to get help.”
White advised residents who know they have HOA fees and know they are in arrears to catch up to avoid foreclosure altogether.
But White said there are things lawmakers can do to make that process more difficult.
“I think the process should be much more difficult. There should be strict notification requirements and strict proof of termination,” White said.
“The law states that an HOA has this right. And then there’s the question of what you can legally do, which is ethical,” White said. “What’s going on is just not right. It really is that simple.”
Note to homeowners with HOAs:
- Stay up to date on HOA payments and fines.
- White said he should get involved on the HOA board. He said he should vote and participate, even run for office.
- Take notes when interacting with HOAs
- Before you shop into a neighborhood, decide if you want to be in a neighborhood that has an HOA
- Read the bylaws of the HOA you are buying before you buy your home
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