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HOA to sue residents for a private Facebook group

Two years ago when a subdivision resident started a private Facebook group to connect her neighbors, she had no idea she would be threatened multiple times with lawsuits for doing the same thing hundreds of thousands of private group administrators do every day.

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Maplewood Homeowner’s Association

Two years ago, Susan Rowe started a private Facebook group for residents of the community she lives in, but last fall, the Homeowner’s Association (HOA) sent her notice that she may not use the subdivision’s name as the group’s title, according to WSMV-TV in Nashville. Rowe complied and changed the name of the group to “Residents of Maplewood” to clear up any confusion.

The group is a popular place for residents to connect for babysitters, pet sitters, social gatherings and the like. Last week, she received a letter threatening a lawsuit if she did not remove the subdivision’s name from the private (invitation only, the public cannot see) Facebook group. “When I received the letter in the mail, I just felt very bullied,” Rowe told WSMV-TV.

The HOA’s lawyer (paid through HOA dues, thus by the residents themselves) said in an interview, “I don’t think there’s an attempt to censor what she has on that site, merely, they didn’t want to cause confusion over the association’s site and something else [with the same name].”

Rowe says the HOA told her directly that they want control over the Facebook page so they can monitor activity and delete any negative posts. The lawyer says the HOA has concerns that negative comments will affect home values.

Can they do this?

This is not the first time an entity has threatened legal actions for community members creating Facebook groups, websites, Twitter handles, and the like, and most seek to censor content by stepping in or fear a lack of control, but in this case it seems that it is equally likely that the page is popular and well run and would be an ideal place for an HOA to insert itself rather than build their own community, but there is no way to tell motive on either side.

It is curious, however, that Rowe changed the name to avoid brand confusion and complied. Would there not be more confusion over which Maplewood the residents live in? What about Maplewood, New Jersey, or Maplewood, Minnesota, or Maplewood, Missouri, or the Maplewood neighborhood in Rochester, New York.

Or if it is a matter of confusion over the name, maybe there is also confusion as to whether the group is about a subdivision or the band Maplewood, or the Maplewood farm in Berlin, or the Maplewood Inn Bed and Breakfast in Vermont, or the Maplewood Stables in Nevada, or Maplewood Software, or Maplewood Lanes in Omaha, or Maplewood Organics in Vermont, or Maplewood Meats in Wisconsin, or hey, maybe the maple wood tree.

No one pays to be a member of a private Facebook group and Rowe is not making money by helping connect her community, so it seems the best move for the HOA would be to drop the lawsuit and become a member of the group – not to censor but to be aware, involved and helpful and possibly even be a value added and be around for questions or heck, even comments.

Rowe should not relinquish the group to this HOA, nor should she be bullied by the HOA her dues support, rather they should be clear about their intentions and work with the homeowners who just want to know where the next BBQ is.

Lani is the Chief Operating Officer at The American Genius - she has co-authored a book, co-founded BASHH and Austin Digital Jobs, and is a seasoned business writer and editorialist with a penchant for the irreverent.

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22 Comments

22 Comments

  1. Amy Vernon

    March 31, 2012 at 9:52 pm

    Oh, this makes me SO mad. HOAs need to realize they are not – and should not – be in control of over aspect of their members’ lives. Just because people choose to live in a neighborhood that has an HOA does not mean they have given up their Constitutional rights. I hope this woman does not give in.

  2. Lucretia Pruitt

    March 31, 2012 at 11:24 pm

    *Sigh* Why do HOAs and the word “community” seem so incompatible when it comes to matters like this?

    Clearly Ms. Rowe has gone out of her way to make sure that there is no confusion by complying with the somewhat ridiculous request to remove the word “Maplewood” from the name of the non-public, non-endorsed Facebook group. But the fact that the HOA clearly expected her to turn over the reins of that group simply because they want to control it shows that whomever is guiding that effort knows little-to-nothing about building and fostering a community with voluntary members.

    It really shouldn’t be that shocking, I suppose. If the HOA leadership had any idea how to create a space where people *choose* to participate as opposed to being forced to conform, they would’ve built a public group themselves and seen those same people who they are trying to police now sign up of their own accord. Unfortunately, once one is used to ‘insisting’ rather than providing a compelling argument? It seems to become habitual.

    Ms. Rowe should certainly *not* hand over control of the group. The members of that group did not sign up for an HOA Facebook community – they signed up for and participate in one that she created and that they have voluntarily participated in. At most (and I’m being generous here) she might want to post a disclaimer that it is in no way endorsed by or affiliated with the Maplewood HOA so that whichever misguided souls are too clueless to figure that out themselves by this point will know that they can quit being members at any time. Something which they, sadly, cannot do as dues paying members of an HOA.

    This whole thing is ridiculous. Can you imagine if a city or township had done something similar? “Please don’t use the word Springfield in the name of your secret Facebook group South Springfield Peeps – people might think the city of Springfield endorses it, despite the fact that only 50 people can see it (including the mayor’s cousin, Bob, who told us about it.) Better yet, give us control of it so we can delete things we don’t like. Best, Mayor Quimby.”

  3. Brian Carter

    March 31, 2012 at 11:41 pm

    Just another example of why I purposely live in a neighborhood with no HOA. Repressive. Ridiculous. Self-important.

  4. Shelly Kramer

    April 1, 2012 at 12:09 am

    Wow. What a ridiculous waste of energy. The logic here (if that’s what you call it) is something like this: instead of getting involved in the social channel and being a resources to the inhabitants of the subdivision let’s just bully them and show them who’s boss. What kind of message does that send? Funny, it’s clear the forces behind this have no idea of either the benefits – or the dangers – of social media channels. What a beginning of a full on “brand crisis.” The residents deserve better than this – and, oh, by the way, they FUND the HOA.

    Will be watching this to see what transpires. Would love to cover it on the blog as one of our “what NOT to do” case studies.

    Thanks for the heads up, AGBeat!

  5. Tinu Abayomi-Paul

    April 1, 2012 at 1:07 am

    This is so stupid. First of all, why not just ask her. Secondly, come the … come on. What possible good can come of this for ANYONE? The HOA makes itself look douchey, which is exactly what you want when we’re trying to get more people to buy homes, right?

    It doesn’t serve the residents who live under their dictatorsh– I mean totalitariani— I mean domin—… uh, rule, or whatever.

    Power-hungry waste of money, suing someone over the use of a Facebook group name. If you wanted it for yourself, you should have smartened up and started on FB sooner. Can you imagine if the first television manufacturer sued the networks for calling them television shows? Bass ackwards.

  6. Charles Mackenzie-Hill

    April 1, 2012 at 3:56 am

    What’s crazy is ? Surly private means private. Residents of Maplewood my participate by invitation only. Not sure how this can effort RE prices? As there is no outside influences by third parties

  7. Christopher Barger

    April 1, 2012 at 2:35 pm

    This is a ridiculous waste of not only the HOA’s time, but of its members’ money. Seriously, this is what they pay money for? To have attorneys trolling their private activities with their neighbors on behalf of some oversensitive clowns within HOA “leadership?” What’s next – does the HOA send cease and desist notes to every resident who plans a neighborhood barbecue or invites a neighbor over to watch the game or have a beer… just in case those neighbors might talk about the HOA during these kinds of unauthorized get togethers?

    Apparently, to these bozos “Maplewood” is the new “Voldemort” — that which shall not be named.

    Frivolous and oversensitive fools’ errands like this are why people hate lawyers. And HOAs.

  8. Dave Jones

    April 1, 2012 at 3:09 pm

    Unbelievably transparent attempt at putting a legal chill over someone’s rights of free assembly and expression.

    I hope there’s a lawyer willing to counter-sue if there’s a case for harassment here.

  9. Michele Nixon

    April 1, 2012 at 6:44 pm

    This is just a plain case of control issues and idiocy on the part of the HOA. And, by trying to force their way into a place they don’t belong, the HOA themselves have damaged the home values of the subdivision. Who would want to live with such control freaks trying to tell people how to live and when to wipe their butts? I, for one, will never live in a subdivision named Maplewood.

  10. Pam Pugmire

    April 2, 2012 at 1:37 pm

    Sounds like it’s time for the homeowners to get a new management company for their HOA and/or new officers.

  11. Stacey

    April 2, 2012 at 1:43 pm

    The funny thing is… The only negative things I ever hear about communities with HOAs is about the HOAs themselves.. People do not like being micromanaged and they do not like being censored!

    The only thing the HOA should be concerned about is if someone decides to paint their home hot pink or some other ridiculous color, or if the lighting and sidewalks in the main areas are in need of repair, keeping the public pool and spa clean, and making sure the residence are keeping their yards tidy. Anything more then that is beyond their line of duty!

    The quickest thing that will drop home values is an HOA with a bad reputation! You start attacking the residence that are paying you an exorbent amount of money every month, word will get around and resale of homes in the community will be difficult! Don’t want anyone to say anything negative about the HOA.. Don’t try to censor or micromanage them.. Definitely don’t use the funds that the residence are paying each month to hire attorneys to go up against them!

    I would strongly suggest the residence of Maplewood start reading their declarations and CC&Rs to see what steps they need to take to disband that HOA…

    HOA’s need to remember they work for the homeowners they are not rulers over them..

  12. Martin Taggart

    May 10, 2012 at 6:32 pm

    Wow….control freaks?

  13. Robyn Porter

    May 10, 2012 at 6:32 pm

    Unbelievable. The HOA board members are probably control-freaks who are afraid of technology and don’t understand how FB groups work.

  14. Molly McMahan

    May 10, 2012 at 6:32 pm

    this is kinda the reason why I won’t live in a subdivision with “modern day associations”

  15. Jim Fay

    May 10, 2012 at 6:32 pm

    a quick scan of Nashville Yellow Pages showed me seven different results for “MAPLEWOOD”. Do they intend to sue the high school for using their name?

  16. AgentGenius

    May 10, 2012 at 6:32 pm

    a lot of this will depend on if the homeowner gets a lawyer which is ironic, because her dues are paying for the lawyer threatening to sue her, so she’ll be paying for two lawyers.

  17. Jim Fay

    May 10, 2012 at 6:32 pm

    Nashville also has Maplewood Stables, Maplewood Nursing Home, Maplewood High School, Maplewood Developing Community Leaders ! Who do these people think they are demanding control over a word?

  18. Christine Wilkins-Goodearl

    August 9, 2015 at 11:57 pm

    question for people reading this. What would you do if your HOA sanctioned Facebook page administrator disallowed, censored, posting inviting you to a public ice cream social to come out to meet a candidate for mayor for an upcoming election? The admin posted an article touting the current mayor-free publicity, but disallows any political advertising. I find neighborhood Facebook pages to be very political. Wish our HOA would insist the FB page not be tied to our HOA.

  19. Arielle

    August 21, 2015 at 1:02 pm

    So coming from an HOA standpoint, we are having a similar issue. A former board member made a page, but starts arguments and is very rude on the page. We, as an HOA, would like the page to be a safe place to post and learn about important happenings in the neighborhood. We asked the resident (former board member) to relinquish control of the already established page, but he refused stating it was his private page. So we are making our own, but in this case, don’t you all think he should change the name? Right now the page is “Neighborhood” HOA. Our new page is Official “Neighborhood” HOA.

  20. Donna

    February 19, 2016 at 11:19 am

    First of all, an HOA is an association of people, not the board. The association is the homeowners. The board is the entity that represents the people in the neighborhood. Thus using the term HOA implies that the residents are the ones angry about the Facebook page.
    The board of directors is trying to control the Facebook page. I recently resigned from a board just like the one mentioned here, and I’m 30 miles north of Nashville. One of our homeowners started a Facebook page that uses the name of our neighborhood, Cambridge Farms, in its title. People share stories, complaints and observations. They complain about the board quite a bit…why? Because this board does not communicate anything to the homeowners. They make blanket decisions without regard for the homeowners opinion. I would answer questions about current problems or decisions made at board meetings that were already public knowledge. The old members of the board hate it. They believe it’s a liability to tell anything. I kept receiving nasty email after nasty email from certain members of the board and I just got tired of the harassment for a voluntary position. I truly wanted to be a transparent representative, something the others refuse to do…the homeowners really appreciated my communication. Unfortunately the environment was so toxic I just didn’t want to take it anymore. Three newly elected board members have resigned since August of last year…
    The board kept screaming liability when in fact there is no liability for the obvious. Instead of making use of a free ability to keep the neighborhood informed they choose to keep things secret. I stand with Susan Rowe.

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