Estimated read time: 4-5 minutes
SALT LAKE CITY — Matt Hinojos is a simple guy. He works 40 hours a week and just wants a comfortable life.
But he has Type 1 diabetes and that complicates how he lives.
"I have a stringent diet and exercise routine. Although I have a glucose monitor attached to my stomach, it is not always accurate and I cannot sense my lows. Because I cannot feel my lows, I have to exist in primarily controlled environments for my work, exercise, recreation."
But those controlled environments and his homeowners association have been at odds in the past.
"I live in a condo building, with an HOA board and management company. My work schedule changed and I asked for a 'reasonable accommodation' to use the condo gym when I got off work. Instead of accommodating me as the law requires, for months, the board ignored my repeated, written requests."
HOALiving.com, a conglomerate of HOAs in Utah and Idaho that includes the one where Hinojos lives, declined to comment for this story because of pending litigation.
HOAs have their upside and their downside. Curbside landscaping and snow removal can be part of the agreement. Many HOAs come with member-only access and a clubhouse for social gatherings. Those perks also come with some disadvantages, such as fee increases that can be voted on by members of the HOA.
There are also quirky rules that can result in fines for things like leaving your empty garbage can at the curb, Christmas decorations that don't follow the rules or the number of cars parked in front of your home.
Salt Lake County Councilman Richard Snelgrove, who was defeated in the general election, says he has been bombarded with complaints over strange regulations enforced by multiple HOA managements.
"It has to be fair," he said, asserting the Utah State Legislature failed to fix the issue because a bill addressing HOAs didn't even make it out of a rules committee due to time constraints and drafting in the 2022 session. That bill, HB422, among other things would have required HOA members to have a bill of rights, and would have obligated HOA owners to provide HOA members notice of legal action.
However, the same bill was filed this month and will be numbered for introduction in the 2023 session.
"You don't want to have rogue HOA officers that can be so destructive to someone's well-being, as we've seen some of these draconian cases where a minor fine can escalate into tens of thousands of dollars," Snelgrove said.
The HOA debate
Snelgrove argues that the state has not done enough to address HOA concerns.
"As I look at their concerns, I can't help but wonder if local and state elected officials are showing adequate concerns to our homeowners and tenants living in HOAs. Have we as elected officials adequately listened to residents' concerns, and have we codified solutions in clear, concise and easy-to-understand ordinances and statutes?"
The rules fly in the face of a drought when it comes to watering requirements or mandatory landscaping requirements.
And then there are people like Hinojos, where access is an issue.
Snelgrove wants to know, and thinks this should be a larger issue for the Utah Legislature to revisit because he asserts, at times, it is personalities — not rules — that run the organizations.
"A common denominator seems to be the draconian actions can be dominated by the attitudes and the lens of the leadership of that particular HOA at that moment in time," he said. "It shouldn't be that way."
How much does it cost to fight an HOA?
Hinojos has spent thousands in attorney fees in a frustrating battle to secure his rights as a disabled man to get access to health care facilities supposedly provided by the place he lives.
The Utah State Labor Commission has ruled in his favor, asserting the HOA did not reasonably accommodate him due to his disability. But the judge denied the reimbursement of his attorney's fees. The denial was appealed three different times to no avail.
Additionally, an appeal to the district court also rejected his plea to pay for his attorney fees.
A brief has been filed with the Utah State Court of Appeals on behalf of Hinojos, who said he is pursuing the issue because he worries there will be more victims, especially people with disabilities.
Although his access has since been granted to use the workout facilities, Hinojos is pursuing financial compensation for the money he has had to spend in his battle.
"This has been a multiyear nightmare. It has drained my finances and I feel the existing system rewards the bad behavior of HOA boards and management companies. It actually victimizes further the disabled victim."