HOA Hall of Shame: Sun City Anthem
One of the valley's largest upscale communities has frequent unwelcome visitors: coyotes who've killed multiple family pets right in their owners' backyards.
One owner's quest to protect her pets has landed the Sun City Anthem HOA as the newest member of Contact 13's HOA Hall of Shame.
Chief Investigator Darcy Spears looks at how the board is fighting and fining a widow who just wants to feel safe in her own backyard.
The six-year-old Shih-Tzu is lucky to be alive after a savage attack in the middle of the night in her own backyard in October, 2009.
"She was screaming and screeching and I woke up and ran out and found the coyote had Mitzi's head in its mouth," recalls 85-year-old Doris Vescio--who goes by the nickname Penny.
She managed to scare the coyote away and save Mitzi after being alerted by her other dog.
Penny is deaf without her hearing aids and relies on her pets to alert her to noises while she's asleep.
"It terrifies me to think that this could happen again."
Penny resolved to do whatever she could to provide a safe environment for herself and her pets.
So twice she got approval from the Sun City Anthem Architectural Review Committee to put iron fences on top of her backyard walls.
It cost her about $3,000.
"Eight months later an inspector knocked on my door and told me you're illegal. And I said, are you kidding me?!"
You heard right.
Eight months after the fact and despite approving her plans twice, the HOA is pulling the rug out from under Penny.
"They want me to take down the fence. They're fining me $100 and $100 every week!"
The fines from her HOA began in late November and went up to $1,000 because Penny's been fighting back.
"Well are you gonna take $3,000 worth of fence down right away? I don't think so!"
The fence up on top of the back wall was put in by the builder.
It came with the house.
The lower fences on her side walls are the ones Penny put in after the coyote attacked her dog to protect herself and her pets.
And those lower fences are the ones that the HOA is suddenly saying are not in compliance.
They say her fences can't be higher than six feet--a height that simply won't keep the coyotes out.
But she's got approved plans from 2007 for five-foot walls.
After the coyote attack in 2009, she got approval twice more from the HOA to put three-foot iron fences on top of her walls.
Do the math and it comes out to eight feet.
The Board didn't inspect her yard before approving the addition.
They didn't review their own files to check the wall height they previously approved.
And now they're blaming the contractor, saying the wall/fence combo is too tall and requires special permission.
After our calls to Board President Jack Troia went unreturned, we went to see him and Vice President Roz Berman.
Neither was home.
Berman later called to say she wouldn't comment.
Troia didn't respond at all, which is ironic considering a speech he posted on You Tube when he was running for the board.
He talks about "A board of directors that communicates and works effectively within the community."
Penny and other Sun City Anthem residents say they've seen anything but effective communication from their Board.
And Troia himself seems to have developed a reputation for it.
In an audio clip posted on an HOA advocate website by another Sun City Anthem homeowner, Troia can be heard yelling, "You're not acknowledged! When you're acknowledged you can talk! Until then you keep your mouth shut! This is not your meeting!"
We didn't get so much as a peep from Troia.
But the association's management company sent us an e-mail.
RMI President Kevin Wallace writes, "All too often the association's side of the story is untold. We welcome the opportunity to bring some additional balance to the reporting. That said, in this case the Sun City Anthem board has requested that we not comment on the story."
Penny appealed to the Board citing 12 other homes in Sun City Anthem with fences higher than community rules allow.
"It just seems like the rule of reason should apply and the HOA should cut her some slack," said her attorney, Bob Sullivan.
Her neighbors feel the same way.
Many have even written letters to the board supporting her.
"She just wants to feel safe in her own home. And why the board will not grant a variance is baffling to me," Sullivan says.
Especially since they're well aware of the community's coyote problem.
The January edition of the HOA's Spirit magazine warns residents about the dangerous threat coyotes pose to family pets and how these predators "are very agile and known to jump high fences."
They even go so far as to advise residents not to let pets go into their backyards alone.
"I want to feel safe and I can't if I have to tear that fence down," a forlorn Penny says.
But get this.
After fighting Penny for six months, the Board called a special meeting late in our investigation where they voted to waive her fines and let her keep the fence.
But only for two more years... a stay of execution that comes with a catch.
They demanded a written apology from her.
"An apology for involving third parties, presumably channel 13 as well as the Hall of Shame and so obviously the pressure is getting to the board," says Sullivan.
Penny's calling the letter a bullying tactic that the board essentially dictated and she says she signed under duress.
She also had to throw contractor Cedco under the bus.
"It seems like somebody after the fact is just looking for somebody to blame and Cedco is convenient," Sullivan surmises.
We went back to Board President Jack Troia and after knocking on the door but getting no answer, we tried calling to him through the front door.
"We'd like to know why you're asking this homeowner to apologize when it appears you need to be apologizing to her?" Spears asked.
Again, Troia didn't respond.
The contractor denies any wrongdoing, going back to the fact that the Board approved their plans twice.
And Penny's neighbors are rallying around her to continue the fight.
HOA issues have become so contentious that a rally is set at the Grant Sawyer state building for Monday, February 7 at 11 a.m..
Homeowners want to make sure their voices are heard as lawmakers begin to consider at least 30 new laws that would change the way HOAs operate.
We want your comments on this story and your nominations for the next member of the HOA Hall of Shame.
Send us an email to email@example.com.