UPDATED, Thursday, December 11: The City of Albuquerque sent the Ventana Ranch HOA, through HOAMCO, a cease and desist letter today. The notice means that the city can pursue criminal charges if the homeowners’ association continues to boot on public property. City Attorney David Tourek told KRQE News 13, “What they’re doing right now is wrong. It violates the law… If you’re booting on public property and you’re a private landowner, you better have some basis for doing that. And I am not aware, nor is the city aware, of why they are able to do that.” Tourek also said that if the practice continues, the city will take the homeowners’ association to court to seek an injunction and court costs.
ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) – An Albuquerque homeowners’ association seeking to rigorously enforce parking rules for its residents has run afoul of a city law meant to protect drivers against overaggressive booting services.
This fall, the Ventana Ranch homeowners’ association hired, through the private management company HOAMCO, a private booting service and allowed security patrols to begin booting vehicles and trailers that were parked on public streets.
The practice, which city staff considers to be illegal, was stopped after KRQE News 13 began investigating homeowners who had vehicles booted in front of their homes and, in at least one case, in their own driveway.
The move highlights a growing debate over the power given to homeowners’ associations – or HOAs. It’s a burbling, murky quagmire into which New Mexico has just recently waded.
Daniel Brock learned firsthand just how maddening the power struggle between homeowners and their self-imposed overlords on HOA boards can be.
On a Friday night last month, Brock pulled his Ford Explorer in front of his home and parked it. Attached to the hitch was a trailer full of sports equipment he uses for his job managing youth sports leagues.
“I’d been home maybe half an hour,” he said, when he came out to get something from the trailer and found a security guard trying to fasten a boot to the trailer wheel.
Brock was confused – and angry. “This is a city-maintained street,” he said, “I was parked legally on a city street.”
Because the HOA doesn’t allow trailers to be parked in front of homes for more than a couple days, Brock drives to his boss’s home in Tijeras every Friday night during league seasons and hauls the trailer to his home in northwest Albuquerque.
The trailer sits in front of his house off and on until he drives it back to Tijeras on Monday morning.
He’d tangled with the HOA on the issue before, Brock said, but after reaching out to HOAMCO’s compliance officer and getting permission through an email, he thought the problem had been solved.
“It’s my means of providing a living for myself,” Brock said of the trailer full of equipment needed for his job. “It’s why I’m able to live here.”
But the security guard wasn’t interested. Brock argued his case to a string of supervisors before finally getting the boot off late that night without having to pay the $75 removal fee.
Normally, the HOA gives homeowners two weeks to correct anything that isn’t in line with the covenants and restrictions for the community. According to the association’s violations policy, fines don’t kick in until 30 days after the violation. But parking became a different matter.
In an apparent effort to curb problematic parking in the 1,200-home community, the Ventana Ranch HOA and HOAMCO hired a security company to crank down the big, orange vehicle-immobilizing devices on improperly parked residents.
HOAMCO’s community manager for Ventana Ranch, Lee Wharton, and its president did not return phone calls or emails about the illegal booting practice, nor did CEO Justin Scott respond to an in-person request for comment by KRQE News 13.
HOAMCO manages several communities across New Mexico, including High Desert, Tanoan East and Mesa del Sol in Albuquerque as well as Nave Ade and Rancho Viejo South in Santa Fe. The company is currently being considered to manage the 2,600 home Eldorado Community Improvement Association HOA south of Santa Fe.
The company hired to do the booting – Auto Shackles, LLC – also did not return calls.
City Councilor Dan Lewis called the booting move unusual: “I don’t think we’ve ever dealt with an HOA that’s actually hired a service to boot cars.”
Lewis said the city’s ordinance on private booting, passed in 2013, places clear restrictions on private booting – specifically on public property. “These are city streets,” he said.
While it’s clear to Lewis that the decision to boot trailers, RVs and other vehicles parked on public streets isn’t the association’s to make, many people who live in neighborhoods under the quasi-governmental control of an HOA are used to being surprised by the association’s reach.
“HOAs these days have a lot of power to be able to enforce their laws,” Lewis said.
New Mexico only recently began to rein in that power.
In 2013, Sen. Tim Keller of Albuquerque shepherded the Homeowner Association Act through the Legislature. The law required HOAs to disclose financial and other records to both current and prospective homeowners. It also restructured rules for voting and clearly defined when a developer must cede control of a new HOA to homeowners.
The final version of the bill passed both the House and Senate unanimously before being signed into law by Governor Susana Martinez. But the vote tally belies the bill’s controversial history.
In a telephone interview with News 13, Keller said finding consensus on the bill was the hardest thing he’d done as a legislator. More than two dozen drafts – by some accounts a legislative record – were crafted before the final version hit the floor of the Senate, Keller said.
The law forces HOAs to register with the county clerk. If an association doesn’t abide by the rules, the law prevents the HOA from collecting fines or assessments and from filing liens on homeowners.
But the law doesn’t get into the kind of minutiae that frustrate so many homeowners. Keller, who leaves the Legislature in 2015 when he takes office as State Auditor, said he expects small changes to the law during the upcoming legislative session. He wasn’t aware of plans by any lawmakers for major additions to the law.