FORT WORTH (CBSDFW.COM) - When TCU graduate LaDainian Tomlinson made it big in the NFL, he did what any good son would do. He bought his mom a big house in Fort Worth. "I owe my life to my mom. If it were not for her, there's no LaDainian Tomlinson," said the NFL running back.
LaDainain even pays the Homeowners Association dues. But when a monthly HOA payment fell through the cracks, things got nasty. "I've never been treated quite like that before," recalled LaDainain's mother, Loreane Tomlinson.
Loreane says she paid what was owed; plus late fees, but the penalties kept adding up. "Next time I looked up, it was $400."
LaDainian ultimately paid the fees, but the ordeal left a bad taste in his mouth. "It's just unfair for people to get treated like this," he added.
Loreane's neighbor is in a similar fight. The HOA is suing him to remove a large van from his driveway. The neighbor says he has provided documents to the HOA, proving that his wife needs the van for medical reasons.
The HOA says it's an eye sore and issued CBS 11 a statement claiming that every homeowner gets a "copy of the Declarations of Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions (DCCR)" and therefore "every homeowner knows the rules before they move into Riverbend Estates."
The battle was different for Nancy Ruedeman of Plano, but the war was the same. It started in 2009 when Ruedeman's Homeowners Association slapped her with two $25 fines for not removing the grass in the cracks of her driveway.
Nancy says she paid the fine, but her HOA said she didn't. That's when the fees started racking up. "Not only was I getting a $25-a-month late fee every other week, I was also getting $35 collection fees," recalled Ruedeman
In the months to follow, the 50-year-old homeowner says things really got ugly. "The grass in the cracks was one of many frivolous violation charges that they sent me notices on."
Ruedeman says she got hit with fines for not painting the trim on her house and for bald spots in her lawn. She was inundated with registered letters seeking payment. The HOA then demanded that she pay for attorney fees.
When the fines and fees finally reached more than $1500, her HOA placed a lien on her home and threatened to foreclose. "It makes me upset to think I work hard my whole life and in an instant, over something as frivolous as grass growing in the crack of the driveway, the HOA can take your home and just throw you on the street," said Ruedeman.
Since CBS 11's interview with Ruedeman, the HOA has suddenly dropped all fees and fines and Nancy says the two sides have reached an agreement.
Ruedeman and Tomlinson's battles are just one of hundreds of horror stories from Texans at odds with their HOAs. An estimated four million Texans live in neighborhoods with Homeowners Associations.
Many HOAs have tremendous power and can regulate numerous aspects of your home, including the height of your fence, your landscaping and the number of cars parked in your driveway, just to name a few.
Critics like Sherry Terry of the Texas Homeowners Association For Reform call it a dictatorship. "You're basically giving up your right to your home," explained Terry.
While Terry believes HOAs wield far too much power, Marta Gore has a different opinion. "We all want our property values to increase. In order for them to increase, we all have to hold to a certain standard," said Gore.
Gore is with Texas Community Association Advocates; an organization that represents hundreds of HOAs in Texas. The McKinney resident says a few abusive HOAs give the rest of the industry a bad and undeserved reputation.
Marta defends Homeowners Associations for making neighborhoods desirable. "You know that in 20 years or in two years or whenever you leave, it's going to look the same way when you moved in and thought it was beautiful," added Gore.
Most HOAs are responsible for landscaping common areas and keeping neighborhood parks and lakes attractive, which in turn, can help raise property values.
Despite the positives, State Senator Royce West of Dallas says he kept hearing too many negatives. "There were a number of abuses concerning assessments, concerning having open meetings and getting access to records," explained West.
The Democratic Senator joined other Texas lawmakers and passed several bills that became laws this past January. The laws make it more difficult for HOAs to place liens or foreclose on homes. They also give neighbors open access to HOA meetings and records, and they allow residents more freedom to change the exteriors of their houses.
Sherry Terry says it's a good start, but the laws have no teeth because they fail to hold violators accountable. "There's no consequences. There's no fines that go to those board members," said Terry.
Terry believes that until HOAs are actually punished for their abuses, millions of Texans may never fully realize the meaning of home sweet home.
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