HOUSTON – From the Woodlands to way down south in Pearland, new subdivisions and communities are popping up all over our area. But before you buy into a new neighborhood, you should read this story. One northeast Houston homeowner called our Investigates team when the plan she said was sold to her never materialized.
Homeowner says new build community promised high-security measures
When a new community is under construction, you may only have the builder’s advertisements to know what it might look like when finished. The developer is usually in charge until the neighborhood is almost complete. It is not uncommon during the switch from the developer to an HOA that some of those promised amenities disappear.
Carolyn Golden was one of the first homeowners to build in the Park Lakes community off Beltway 8 near Wilson Road. The promised plans spelled out on brochures had her sold.
“They have all this advertisement, this is going to be this lavishing community with these trails and beautiful lakes, a two-guard shed community,” said Golden.
Fast forward 13 years and the community has lavish homes, trails, and lakes. But the security feature that sold Golden on the property never fully made it. Right now, there is one gate with a guard shed at the main entrance and a regular gate at the middle and back gates. Golden said there were supposed to be two gates *with* guard sheds.
“I would like our guard shed in the estate area. We’re paying for the guard shed, we were promised the guard shed,” she explained.
Paying more in HOA fees, without a guard shed gate
Golden’s frustration is that homeowners in the “Estates” section where she lives pay $200 more per year in HOA fees but without the guarded gate. That means homeowners in the section of the community with the guard shed pay less in HOA fees.
“We’ve been emailing the developer, the homeowners’ association, and now we’ve been told that they’re not going to build the guard shed,” she said.
In July, the HOA sent out a letter to homeowners saying in part, “There is no current plan to build this structure, and no guarantees the structure would ever be built at this structure.”
An attorney representing the HOA told us the board, “Cannot make decisions based on how homeowners thought the community would be developed,” or, “based on what homeowners believed the original developer promised in the past.”
He said the reason Golden’s section of the neighborhood pays more in HOA fees is “because the middle gate was installed for the sole benefit of the Estates homeowners, it’s operational and maintenance costs are borne entirely by those residents.” (See full HOA statement below.)
“When we have non-residents that trail into the community behind other vehicles, it breaks the gate arms. And for whatever reason the call box isn’t working,” Golden said. “We have gates, in the front as well, with the security guard shed up there as well, so why aren’t they paying a gate fee?”
When our KPRC 2 Investigates team was visiting Golden in her neighborhood, we saw all of the gate issues she was talking about -- including the keypad not working, cars following in other cars, and people trying to enter on the wrong side.
The HOA rep said people in the estates can vote to have the middle gate removed. We found the original deed file in Harris County for this property and there is no mention of guard sheds. We reached out to builders Land Tejas for comment and have not heard back.
KPRC 2 Investigated asked an attorney if Golden or homeowners in similar situations have any recourse. The attorney said homeowners can file a lawsuit against the developer for making representations to get others to rely on or buy their homes. However, there is a statute of limitations of four years. Golden would have had to file more than a decade ago.
What you should consider before building a new community
There are a few things you can do before you buy in an unfinished community. For any type of property, there will be information about plans in the county tax assessor’s office. There you can see what kind of zoning is going up around the property. For example, you could find out there will be a big retail development going up right next door in the future.
Investigate home prices for sales and dates of completion for other homes in the subdivision. You can get this from the builders, title company, or tax assessor’s office.
Full statement from HOA for the Parks Lakes Community
“Park Lakes is a master planned community that offers gated access for all homeowners. Located within the community are five subdivisions commonly known as the Estates Sections (“The Estates”). The Estates were developed as a part of Park Lakes that offers additional restricted access for the benefit of those homeowners. The Estates are separated from the rest of the community by an inner “middle gate” and a “back gate” (i.e., the Wilson Road gate). The Wilson Road gate gives The Estates residents access to their subdivisions via Wilson Road, which other Park Lakes homeowners do not enjoy.
Because the middle gate was installed for the sole benefit of The Estates homeowners, its operational and maintenance costs are borne entirely by those residents. These costs are paid by The Estates homeowners in the form of a Neighborhood Assessment. The Neighborhood Assessment is in addition to the regular annual assessment paid by all Park Lakes homeowners for maintenance and upkeep of the overall community. For this reason The Estates homeowners pay slightly higher homeowner dues than other Park Lakes homeowners.
Mrs. Golden and a small, but vocal, group of homeowners have repeatedly requested that a manned access structure be installed at the back (Wilson Road) gate. Because the middle gate would remain in place for the sole benefit of The Estates homeowners, they would have to assume the financial burden of building and operating the new structure. It is not reasonable to expect homeowners who do not live in The Estates to pay for an access structure on Wilson Road which they cannot use. In addition to construction costs, the additional cost of maintaining the new access structure would require a substantial increase in the Neighborhood Assessment paid by The Estates owners.
Should The Estates homeowners vote to remove the middle gate using the procedure outlined in existing deed restrictions, all owners in Park Lakes would be able to enter and exit through the Wilson Road gate. At the same time, a public discussion could be initiated amongst all Park Lakes homeowners regarding constructing of an access structure at the Wilson Road gate, with the operational costs borne by the entire community.
There was a prior attempt by a group of homeowners in The Estates to amend existing deed restrictions and remove the middle gate. Although these homeowners canvassed The Estates – walking every street and knocking on doors – homeowners in The Estates did not support removing the middle gate. The PLPOA board of directors again reiterates that that it cannot make decisions based on how homeowners thought the community would be developed; nor can it act based on what homeowners believed the original developer promised in the past.
The Park Lakes Property Owners Association (PLPOA) is not aware of any attempt by Mrs. Golden or others to obtain a vote by The Estates homeowners for the purpose of removing the middle gate. Nor is the board aware of any attempt – should the middle gate remain in place – to ascertain the willingness of The Estates homeowners to bear the cost of constructing and manning a Wilson Road access structure. The PLPOA board welcomes Mrs. Golden – or any other homeowner – to involve all their neighbors in the conversation to determine how to best move forward. The PLPOA board cannot unilaterally make this decision for homeowners in The Estates.
Ms. Golden’s statement that she waited “eight years until the community was 75-percent built out” cannot be confirmed as any development-related issues, including the alleged promise of a Wilson Road access structure, are completely separate and independent from the PLPOA and its current board of directors. Nor can the PLPOA board of directors respond to Ms. Golden’s statement that she “built in this community…for added safety” as Harris County Real Property Records indicate that she did not obtain an ownership interest in her property (which appears to have been purchased in 2010 by James Golden who is described in the deed as “a Single man”), until 2021.”
Park Lakes Property Owners Association
Board of Directors