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HOA’s have different rules what it means for Police and streets
3/14/2024 3:35:26 PM

The city of Liberty Lake is known for its winding paths, street trees and homeowner's associations. Recently, however, residents of some neighborhoods have been questioning the services they receive from the city, particularly police patrols and traffic enforcement.
Many neighborhoods in Liberty Lake were built by Greenstone Corporation, which set up HOA's for each neighborhood. Though the rules and services vary, generally the HOA collects assessments to take care of common areas and sets rules that can cover everything from house paint color to fencing to landscaping. The board of directors of most HOA's have chosen to contract with a management company that collects assessments and hires contractors to perform the needed work on common areas.
City Administrator Mark McAvoy said the city has multiple agreements in place with HOA's about the maintenance of common or border areas within or on the edge of an HOA. "That's fairly common," he said. "The agreements differ."
The sticking point that has arisen recently is that some HOAs, and even some gated communities that are not in an HOA, have private streets. Since the streets are private, they are maintained by the HOA, not the city, McAvoy said. That includes everything from filling potholes to plowing snow. "That is a capital expense that falls on the property owner," he said. "Most gated communities, whether they're in an HOA or not, the streets are privately owned."
And if the residents of an HOA change their mind, they could try to negotiate a maintenance agreement with the city to maintain the streets or petition the city to take ownership of the streets, McAvoy said. However, the city would not be required to complete either of those options, he said.
Because some streets are private instead of being owned by the city, the police department does not provide traffic enforcement on those streets. "When it comes to traffic enforcement, it's a little bit different," McAvoy said. "It's whether the street is public right of way."
That does not mean that police will not respond if there is an emergency or a crime in neighborhoods with private streets, McAvoy said. Officers respond to those calls anywhere in the city limits.
City councilman Mike Kennedy first brought up the issue of police patrols in HOA neighborhoods in a council meeting early this year. He said several residents had asked him about the issue and he wanted to follow up. "I'm an elected public official," he said. "I represent the citizens of Liberty Lake. I can't ignore my constituents' questions."
Kennedy said that one of the key questions brought up by people is that they pay property taxes, which help fund the police department, so why shouldn't police provide traffic enforcement in their neighborhoods even if the streets are private? The city and the police department are preparing information for a report to address those questions that will be presented at a council meeting in the near future, Kennedy said. "As an elected official, I can bring it up to get it on the agenda," he said.
The Meadowwood HOA, which also includes Garden Ridge and Rocky Hill, is one of the largest in the city. It, like several others, contracts with Rockwood Property Management to handle day-to-day operations of the HOA. The property management companies report to the boards of directors, which in turn gives direction and instruction to the management companies.
In the Meadowwood neighborhood, the streets are not private. HOA members pay to maintain common areas, which includes three small neighborhood parks – Five Fingers, Little Bear and Pumphouse Park. In the Garden Ridge and Rocky Hill neighborhoods, the HOA pays to maintain all the common areas and the streets, which are private. In these neighborhoods, the HOA also maintains the front and back yard of each home.
While the smaller neighborhood parks are owned by the HOA's, the larger parks in the city are owned and operated by the city, McAvoy said. That includes Pavillion, Orchard, Rocky Hill and Town Square parks.
Kennedy lives in the Garden Ridge neighborhood, which includes 81 homes. Since the streets are private, they look different than city-owned streets. "Our streets are narrower than regular streets," he said. "They don't have the same requirements as regular roads. Because of that, it becomes the responsibility of the homeowners."
Kennedy said he pays an assessment of over $1,000 a year just for street maintenance and snow removal, which does not include the usual HOA dues.
He said he's aware of one neighborhood, Legacy Ridge, that has private streets and contracted with the police department to have off-duty officers patrol the neighborhood. While Legacy Ridge is not an HOA, it is a gated community and has private streets. Kennedy said he's not aware of any other neighborhoods with similar arrangements with the police department or a private security company.
The issue was addressed briefly at the February 6 city council meeting by Police Chief Damon Simmons while he was discussing the department's annual report. While officers can enforce laws that result in criminal charges anywhere, they're limited in what traffic laws they can enforce on private property, including private streets, Simmons said. "There is a distinct difference and that's traffic enforcement," he said.
Officers can enforce only laws against driving under the influence, reckless driving, driving with a suspended license, driving without insurance and negligent driving on private streets, he said. They cannot enforce laws against speeding or running stop signs. "Those are the five we can enforce on private property," he said. "If it's a private street, unless it's one of the five I mentioned, we can't enforce it."
In a recent interview, Simmons said officers can and do patrol private streets, they just can't do traffic enforcement for most issues. "We patrol for criminal activity all throughout the city," he said. "We do that as long as we have access. I know I drive through the private communities regularly."
Each officer patrols differently and tries not to be predictable, so people won't see police patrol at the same time every day, he said. "Everyone has their own way of doing things and catching criminals," he said. "Honestly, our HOA's around here are probably the least responsible for calls for criminal activity."
At one time the department had a contract with the Legacy Ridge neighborhood to provide traffic enforcement for issues such as speeding, though the contract is not currently in place, Simmons said. A contract is the only thing that will allow normal traffic enforcement on private property, Simmons said. "That's state law," he said.
Simmons said has not received any complaints about the issue of officers not enforcing speeding and other traffic offenses on private streets. "We haven't received any," he said. "When it was brought up by Councilman Kennedy, it was the first we heard of it."
McAvoy said that if there are ever any questions about services and who provides them, people can reach out to the city or their HOA. "If you're in an HOA, there is an HOA board and they're obligated to provide you with information," he said.

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