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Tiffs between luxury homeowners can escalate into bruising legal, financial and emotional combat
It’s the all-too-common hazard that buyers of multimillion-dollar homes often overlook: Disagreements between homeowners can turn even the nicest neighborhoods into war zones. These disputes can happen anywhere, but in wealthy communities, the tendency to lawyer up quickly can ignite small sparks into all-consuming conflagrations. Collateral damage to neighbors can include legal costs, a soured neighborhood feeling and more difficulty in selling homes.
Homeowners associations often become embroiled in these disputes. HOAs—corporations typically founded by real-estate developers then governed by an elected, volunteer board—collect fees from homeowners for the maintenance of common areas and enforce community rules. HOAs, and condo and co-op boards covered 21% of all housing units—accounting for 68 million people in the U.S. last year, according to the Community Associations Institute, a trade group in Falls Church, Va.
In Rancho Bel Air, Las Vegas, a banner runs the length of Jonathan Friedrich’s roughly 4,000-square foot house. It reads: “Rancho Bel Air sanctioned $10,000 for ‘sandbagging’ me.” The banner refers to penalties a district court ordered the HOA to pay Mr. Friedrich for delays in the discovery process during a long legal dispute.
Mr. Friedrich, a 70-year-old retired general contractor, paid $350,000 for his house in 2003 and spent another $350,000 renovating and decorating, he said. He has fought with the HOA over myriad issues, including whether his home is overseen by the HOA at all. […]