HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - When Charles and Deneen Hicks purchased their first home in the Makaha Valley in 2008, they thought they were fulfilling a lifelong dream.
But after racking up $2,500 in past-due condominium fees, that dream turned into a financial nightmare.
The couple lost their unit after their homeowner's association filed a nonjudicial foreclosure in 2011. Adding insult to injury, they said they were billed another $8,000 by the association's law firm.
"We are financially ruined. We have been homeless, chronically homeless," said Deneen Hicks, who now lives in Long Beach, Calif.
The couple are among dozens of former homeowners who are challenging the condominium foreclosure law in numerous lawsuits in state and federal courts.
They allege that the associations exploited a loophole, allowing them to take away their apartments without even giving them notice or a chance to catch up.
But lawyers for the associations say they doubt there's that much abuse going on.
That's because the loophole existed for less than a year before the state Legislature enacted reforms to the nonjudicial foreclosure law, they said.
"The fact of the matter is nonjudicial foreclosures are a lot cheaper for both association and the delinquent owner who has to pay them than a judicial foreclosure," said Richard Ekimoto, attorney for the condo associations.
A state judge recently sided with the associations in one of the lawsuits, but that case is headed to an appeal.
Still, attorneys for the homeowners say there are more than 160 cases of alleged wrongful foreclosures statewide.
Homeowners add that the associations' lawyers have billed them thousands of dollars to file the foreclosures, making it even more difficult for them to cure their defaults and remain in their homes.
One former Waipio condo owner told Hawaii News Now that she fell behind on her maintenance fees several years ago.
She owed $1,000, but her association tacked on another $4,000 for legal fees.
"She went to work came back home and found that there was a padlock on her door and that the locks had been changed," said Steven Chung, who represents the woman and the Hicks. "This statute that we're dealing with was enacted in 1874. ... It's been called the statute that was used to take land away from Native Hawaiians."
Jim Bickerton, who represents other homeowners, said that "(the associations) were going in there with relatively small amounts when people weren't very far behind and just foreclosing because it was very easy to do."
"We saw that the attorneys fees were driving these foreclosures," he said.