Albuquerque, NM – When homeowner Angie Montgomery came home and found her backyard fence missing, she thought she had been the victim of a crime, and called the police.
Instead, the Albuquerque homeowner discovered that the homeowners’ association (HOA) had removed her fence without her knowledge and could legally do it, according to KOB-TV.
Montgomery has lived in the Pinon Creek Townhomes since 2004.
"I came home and it was gone," she told KOB. "How do you lose a fence? A police report was made and then I found out that it was the HOA that had taken it down."
Montgomery said she had an email as proof she had the homeowners association’s approval to put up the fence.
Despite a Sept. 26, 2014 email that approved putting up the fence, signed by Denise Pisto, the architectural committee controller, HOA President Randy Asselin ordered the fence be removed.
Asselin alleged the email was fake and that Pisto could not verify its authenticity because she had died.
Pinon Creek's president claimed the fence was a “major deviation from the integrity of the community" and it was "impossible to allow it," in an email to KOB.
Asselin use HOA fees to hire an attorney to sue Montgomery.
Montgomery settled out of court, KOB reported.
"I just want to go about my life," Montgomery said. "This has taken up a lot of time, a lot of money, a lot of tears. I work hard, I serve the community, I'm an upstanding citizen and I think what is going in this community is a shame."
But the HOA president’s demands of Montgomery didn’t end with the lawsuit, KOB reported.
After the court settlement, Asselin sent a letter to Montgomery that informed her all of her trees must be cut to ground level, her stairs must be removed, a non-functioning fireplace couldn’t be higher than five feet, and any walls or barriers couldn’t exceed five feet.
An investigation by KOB revealed that Asselin’s own backyard wall was 6 feet tall, and numerous other neighbors also had fences greater than 5 feet.
Experts believe that a power problem exists in communities governed by HOAs. In order to live in the community, a homeowner must agree to abide by the associations’ rules.
Arizona State University Professor Joel Garreau said that homeowners associations generally win in court disputes because they are contract law.
"You have legally agreed to everything it is that they want to do, which is just about anything they want," Garreau told KOB. "HOAs are really shadow governments. They are a private government. When you buy a house with a homeowners' association attached to it, you sign a contract on that house and that means they can do just about anything they want."
Another HOA made the news in October for ordering the removal of signs honoring murdered police officers.
The Stevens Plantation Residential Owner's Association sent letters to residents advising them that the "Back the Blue" signs violate the community rules, according to the Orlando Sentinel.
Homeowners put the signs up after the murders of Kissimmee Police Officer Matthew Baxter and Kissimmee Police Sgt. Richard 'Sam' Howard in August to show their support.