Broad-based legislation regulating homeowners associations won’t get through the S.C. General Assembly this year, but that doesn’t mean the session will end next month with a big zero in the scorecards of those who support it.
Rep. Nelson Hardwick, R-Surfside Beach, said Friday he thinks a bill that would funnel homeowner/HOA disputes into magistrates court could clear both houses if the Senate can get a still-active bill for it to the House.
Providing a lower court venue for disputes could be a significant step in resolving problems homeowners statewide say they are having with HOAs.
Complaints about overzealous HOA boards and officers are common, as are those about developers controlling HOAs to the detriment of homeowners.
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The issue mushroomed along the Grand Strand last year, which led to a public hearing by the area’s legislative delegation and the introduction of legislation in both houses.
Sen. Greg Hembree, R-North Myrtle Beach, the author of the bill to send disputes to magistrates court, said it has been reported out of the Senate Judiciary Committee but has yet to get a floor vote.
Despite the passing of Friday’s deadline for legislation to travel from one chamber to the other and still get a vote this session, Hembree said Hardwick told him that special rules would allow the House to vote on it even if it clears the Senate after the deadline.
Nate Johnson, legislative director for the Coastal Carolinas Association of Realtors, said many of the Grand Strand’s new residents have come from areas where homeowners associations are not common and can feel overwhelmed when they realize what they’ve bought into.
“They’re shocked,” he said. “They don’t know what to do.”
Johnson, Hembree and Hardwick agree that the problems are caused by a small minority of HOAs, but also that the problems they cause are significant enough to need legislative attention.
The trick, at least in part, has been to craft a bill that would address the problems but not infringe unfairly on associations that are well run. Additionally, legislators have said, they found they need to educate their fellow lawmakers from other areas of the state on just how serious the problems can be.
Besides Hembree’s bill in the Senate, Hardwick introduced legislation in the House that could have had broad-reaching implications for homeowners associations. Sen Luke Rankin, R-Myrtle Beach, also introduced a bill that would have, among other things, required HOAs to operate by the same public meeting and public information laws that city and county governments must follow.
Additionally, a Lancaster County representative filed a bill to limit the time that developers had absolute control over subdivisions.
Hardwick said Friday his bill has passed three House votes and been sent to the Senate, but in a ghost of its original form. Instead of attempting to regulate a number of things pertaining to HOAs, it now seeks a study committee to look at the issue during the legislature’s down time and report back next session.
Hembree has a resolution for the same thing he’s trying to get through the Senate.
Both lawmakers said they’re aware of the reputation of study committees as places where issues go to die.
‘It’s a place where things just kind of dissipate,” Johnson said.
Hembree and Hardwick said that’s not their intention with the committees they want formed.
And Hardwick said he believes it’s exactly what it will take to show his cohorts how badly a law is needed.
Johnson said he’s content to wait another session for a comprehensive HOA law, calling the magistrates court measure “a step in the right direction.” He feels at least somewhat optimistic about the headway the issue has built in the current session.
“The promising thing is that it’s being debated,” he said. “It’s being heard.”
But he doesn’t want to learn of many more new residents upset with their move to the Grand Strand because of their interactions with HOAs.
“We can’t have that,” he said. “We don’t want that. That’s not what the Grand Strand is all about.”
Contact STEVE JONES at 444-1765 or on Twitter @TSN_SteveJones.