ARNOLD, Mo. (KMOV.com) -- A group of local neighbors claim their homeowners association had gone rogue, and was acting more like a dictatorship than a helpful community organization.
The neighborhood, located in Arnold, is the kind of place most people would like to raise a family; homes kept neat with respectful neighbors.
"I don't know any neighborhood that you can walk outside your door, call two or three neighbors and by the end, there are ten of you guys, sitting in the driveway, having a beer," said one resident.
All the neighbors News 4 spoke to requested anonymity, but there was one thing many said spoiled it all, and that was the over-reaching of their homeowner's association.
"We are dealing with abuse and selective enforcement. Selective enforcement is something a lot of people are experiencing and it's not right," said one resident.
A homeowner's association, and its fees and rules, is meant to protect a neighborhood from one or two bad apples. They are designed to keep property values up by enforcing standards throughout a neighborhood, making things better for everyone. But this large group of neighbors, most of whom didn't want to be identified for fear of retaliation, contacted News 4 after they said their HOA was becoming more like a runaway train.
"You are not some cop that is going around giving tickets, you are here to give us a voice," said a resident.
The neighbors said rules weren't being enforced equally. One person might get a fine for a basketball hoop, for example, while others did not. One modification to a home might be allowed, another, denied. One man even got fined for his children playing in the street.
"I don't think a two or three member board should ruin our happiness, its not right," said one neighbor.
"[It's hard] Not knowing if I do something to my yard, or I put up a certain flower, or I do an American flag, or a tree, if they are going to send me a fine," said another.
Fines were coming in frequently in recent months, they say, but only for some.
"It can turn into a lien on your house and then can turn into foreclosure," one resident. "It doesn't seem right. It doesn't seem American. It's not why people move here."
Jason Schmidt, an attorney practicing community association law, said HOAs have the undignified job of being the bad guy when it comes to rule enforcement. But that role is necessary, adding most of the time homeowners need to just play by the rules.
"Then it's time to grin and bear it or move out. No every neighborhood is for every owner," he said.
But he said sometimes things can get ugly.
"You don't want to see corruption, someone scratching a neighbor's back this reason or that. I won't enforce the rules against that guy because he's my golfing buddy, etc. None of that is acceptable," he said. "If that is something that's going on, that needs to stop. Either a board member needs to be removed or his behavior needs to be corrected."
These neighbors say the final straw came when the board proposed a new rule to control people's security cameras, telling homeowners where to put them. The HOA even proposed having access to the footage.
News 4 tried getting answers, but ironically, the HOA board president would only speak with reporters through a Ring doorbell security camera. Instead, she invited reporters to their next meeting, but when cameras showed up, the HOA's attorney wouldn't let us inside.
"I just felt it was inappropriate to have a camera crew recording a meeting when they are going discuss financials," said attorney Jamie Carr.
Instead, homeowners said at the meting there was a sudden change in leadership, as the board president resigned. Neighbors want others to know, you can fight back.
"We almost gave up on it, a bunch of us almost gave up on it. And we decided no, lets figure out to do it the right way, the proper way, and look what happened. We ended up with a victory, so I think other people can do it too," said a resident.
There has been some push to change the laws to require disclosures about an HOA, well before someone even puts an offer in a house, rather that after they've already bought it.
HOA experts tell us the best way to get changes to HOAs is to organize, make residents' voices and votes count, and if ever need be, involve the courts.