HORRY COUNTY, S.C. (WMBF) - For residents living in flat and retirement-driven areas like the Grand Strand, a problem familiar to many are issues with homeowners associations and water.
Though solutions have seemed to improve in the 21st century, many concerns still arise. WMBF Investigates receives these complaints frequently.
Someone who knows these struggles well is a Horry County woman whose home in a quaint community has flooded multiple times.
“My health, my money - it’s affected every area of my life,” Cindy Geary explained.
Earlier pictures of Geary’s house, located in a cozy Murrells Inlet neighborhood, depict a well-landscaped and maintained dream home. But her property has turned into a nightmare after increasing levels of rain since Hurricane Florence and flooding in her yard started impacting her home.
“I have water coming through my floors. There’s grass growing through the cracks of my floors,” she said. “That’s pretty bad.”
Geary said it is because of poor drainage from one lot to the next - essentially, a lack of proper flow of water. However, according to the community’s plat, an HOA easement does not appear to exist in her lot nor the ones nearby.
“It may not be an easement,” Geary said. “But the HOA - it should be their responsibility to comply - to make sure that neighbors are cooperating and fixing their drainage - maintaining it.”
Geary has taken on multiple steps in efforts to protect her home, including sandbagging the house’s perimeter, digging a ditch, and utilizing a sump pump to work against the water that increasingly gathers during the typical rainfall that Horry County sees.
“I’m doing everything I can to prevent more damage,” she said. “There’s just so much water; it has nowhere to go.”
Geary’s issues have stretched on without resolution for years now, and she now hopes the HOA would intervene.
“I need the cooperation of the HOA,” she said. “There’s no way for me to fix my drainage.”
WMBF Investigates has reached out to her HOA for comment multiple times, but we have not heard back.
In 2018, state legislators put into law new ways to track trends of the issues South Carolinians have with their HOAs.
The Homeowners Association Act put forth ways to require more transparency from HOAs while creating clearer guidance on how to submit a complaint for the HOAs review and response through the Department of Consumer Affairs.
MORE INFORMATION | S.C. Homeowners Association Act
South Carolina state Rep. Russell Fry, who represents parts of Horry County, was among the bill’s sponsors. He said it was a measured approach to set up some parameters for HOAs in the state.
“The biggest thing was - a clearinghouse of information through the Consumer Affairs area and really trying to identify problems that homeowners were having throughout the state,” he said about its development.
The act calls for the Department of Consumer Affairs to put together an annual report for the General Assembly and governor to review. It contains information related to homeowner complaints filed through the department against HOAs, and how these issues were responded to.
S.C. HOA INFORMATION | File A Complaint
The legislation also in large part has worked to increase the accessibility of information to homeowners so that they can be more aware of what they’re actually buying into by living in an HOA community.
Among these changes are that governing documents must now be filed with the county’s government, residents must be given proper notice of any meetings to change an HOA’s budget, and an HOA’s rules and regulations must be more readily available.
“What we’ve tried to do is to identify areas that need improvement and really try to shine particularly a transparency light on what HOAs are doing and how they can do it better so that they’re more consumer-friendly to the homeowner,” Fry said.
Thom Roth, the stormwater manager for Horry County, said this law was definitely a step in the right direction for the protection of homeowners.
Roth encourages people to look into the HOA documents and know how the drainage of a property works before you buy.
“You need to understand where your easements are, whether it’s on the back, or the sides,” Roth said. “Look at your plat, find out where your drainage easements are. Then understand who owns it.”
Geary said she has spoken with a realtor about selling and getting away from her flood-prone home. She said she would have to pay to get out for what is still owed on the mortgage.
“My house should’ve never gotten this bad with the floors cracking and the walls cracking. It could have been prevented when I went to them with the issue,” she said. “And like I said, there’s no way for me to fix it.”
Since 2018, the Department of Consumer Affairs has completed HOA complaint-related reports for 2019 and 2020. Hundreds of complaints have come through, with Horry County leading the charge in this most recent year with 41 complaints. The problem is that, though the department can take in these homeowner complaints, they cannot compel the HOA to fix the situation or even respond to the complaint for that matter.
MORE INFORMATION | S.C. HOA Complaint-Related Reports
Sometimes, that’s where legal representation may be the next step. It is certainly a problem that clients bring to Sid Connor, a consumer lawyer in Horry County.
“There are conflicts that arise where people go to the board and expect some kind of result. One thing we have to remember is the board is not the answer to all of our problems,” Connor explained. “The board of directors has a list of things that they can and can’t do under the bylaws and the master deed of the community.”
Connor said HOAs serve a purpose in helping keep communities look consistent as the Grand Strand continues to develop.
“It’s actually a very fair way to do things; you have to know what the rules are going in, and you have to be willing to abide by the rules,” he said.
Roth encouraged people to look into the documents and be informed before buying a home.
“Years ago, drainage easements may have not been as important,” Roth said. “It may have been that they were not looking at them as closely. They may have put the information in covenants and restrictions.”
Water is what’s called a “common enemy” in the area, and unfortunately, some of the problems we see with current flooding have essentially been grandfathered in.
“A lot of these problems are arising out of the older communities where the rules are not clearly written, and the original developer didn’t properly drain the community,” Connor explained.
Fry said the complaint-reporting component implemented in the 2018 law is supposed to help legislators decide if any further changes are needed to protect homeowners. Not every district feels the strain levied from problems with their HOAs, because not every district has them as greatly as the Grand Strand does.
“I don’t think you want to overregulate this in this area, because people have every right to see what the rules are when they move in, and it is a contract,” he cautioned. “I think that’s the big balance here, and really the juggling act that the General Assembly is trying to do is how to improve the general outcome without overregulating from our end and making more problems.”
To file a complaint with the Department of Consumer Affairs, you can find more information here.
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