Texas Senate panel passes bill to safeguard military families against foreclosure

Spurred by a Frisco family’s plight, a Senate committee unanimously approved a bill Wednesday to safeguard active-duty military from losing their houses to homeowners associations.

Federal law protects acting service members from foreclosure without a court order. But HOAs say they aren’t always aware of a homeowner’s military status, as was the case with the North Texas couple.

The measure, which now goes to the full Senate, would require that HOAs ask in their debt notices whether the homeowner or spouse serves in the armed forces.

“The intent is simply to improve the communication process,” said Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, the bill’s sponsor.

Sen. Royce West, chairman of the Intergovernmental Relations Committee, called it a “good, one-shot bill.” West, D-Dallas, said he hoped it meant lawmakers would finally “get something done” on HOAs this session.

Both homeowner supporters and HOA representatives applauded it. But Michael Clauer, whose situation prompted the bill, said it wasn’t enough.

Clauer was stationed in Iraq when he learned an HOA had foreclosed on his home. His wife, suffering from depression over his deployment, had fallen behind on their dues. May Clauer did not open the warning letters sent by the HOA.

She learned of the foreclosure when the new owner tried to evict her and her children. Their $300,000 home had sold at auction for $3,201. The Clauers sued and received their house back last year.

“By just focusing on the military aspect, it really doesn’t help the situation,” he said. “There are still too many ways to circumvent and get someone’s home.”

Clauer said he appreciates the intent of HOAs — to protect the aesthetics of neighborhoods and maintain property values — but considers their foreclosure rights too onerous.

HOAs must provide notice in certified mail before they foreclose on a home but rarely need court orders. HOA advocates say foreclosure authority is the only way to ensure homeowners pay their dues.

“I still want to see this law changed,” Clauer said.

He and his family now rent a house in Virginia.

The bill now goes to the full Senate, and quick passage is predicted. In the House, similar bills have been discussed, including some requiring associations to obtain a court order before foreclosing and eliminating HOA liens on property. Backers are optimistic that a final version will be worked out.

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