Contact 13 Investigates
Southern Highlands in HOA Hall of Shame again
Every time Contact 13 inducts a new member into the HOA Hall of Shame, the same questions comes up.
Where is the voice of reason?
Whatever happened to "love thy neighbor?"
As Chief Investigator Darcy Spears reports, it seems one HOA is repeatedly forgetting that concept.
So, we'd like to once again welcome Southern Highlands into our HOA Hall of Shame.
Karen Hanks will never live in another HOA again.
"And I'm really infuriated at this point!"
What's infuriating for her is that something so silly...
"And trivial in my opinion..."
... Has been going on for so long.
"And to me it's reprehensible!"
Karen and her boyfriend bought their home in the Bella Terra community of Southern Highlands in 2006.
It had everything they wanted, including a patio cover.
"In fact, the backyard was one of the biggest selling points of this house for me," Karen recalls.
They lived there peacefully for about two years.
"In about March of 2008, the HOA notified me that I had a violation for a patio cover. After being about two years here, I thought, that must be a mistake. They have the wrong house."
But they persisted, even sending her an email saying "You are responsible to file the proper paperwork for violations on the property, even if the previous owner failed to do so."
"Not that there's anything wrong with the patio cover?" asked Contact 13 Chief Investigator Darcy Spears.
"No." says Karen, "Nothing wrong with the patio cover, not saying it has to come down, they just wanted the application and the $50 fee."
In good faith, Karen filled out the forms, even though she didn't have any construction detail.
She even paid half the application fee ($25 dollars she feels she didn't owe) as a show of good faith and to make the whole thing go away.
"They cash the check, so I think it's settled."
Southern Highlands approved the forms in April, 2009 with the notation that the patio cover was installed by the previous owner.
But that didn't stop the fines.
The HOA sent this letter in July, 2009 saying they'd remove $550 in fines if she paid $25 more dollars for the "violation."
"They're just sticking to their guns that stringently?" Spears asked.
"Yes. So I stuck equally to my guns and I said no, I'm not doing it."
She's a homeowner and a lawyer who knows her rights and knows the law.
She told them so, and refused to pay the additional $25.
"It's all principle at this point and I'm very aware of that."
She says she heard nothing until May of this year when Southern Highlands sent a letter saying they intended to lien her house.
The fines to date are up to $725.
"I think it's reprehensible, is my opinion. It's reprehensible! I think they thought I was going to be a homeowner that would just pay it and walk away, and I don't know how many other homeowners they've done that to."
Contact 13 reached out to Southern Highlands multiple times in every conceivable way--via phone, via email--we even tried contacting them through their attorney but they refused to respond in any way until we got CAI, the HOA industry trade group, involved.
"I think there was stupidity," said Paul Terry, a local attorney and Community Associations Institute's incoming president. "I think there's a question as to whose stupidity it was on which side, but as far as I'm concerned, when it's about $25 it should never rise to this level."
Terry brought a check for $50 to pay off Southern Highlands for their out of pocket costs and he says he's been told that will make this whole thing go away.
"What do you say to those who say it's just rewarding bad behavior?" Spears asked him.
"As I said, I'm not quite sure whose bad behavior I'm rewarding. It could be the homeowner's, it could be the association's."
He believes there was bad communication on both sides, and that reason took a back seat to bad blood.
"We try the best we can to teach both sides about reasonableness and doing the right thing and resolving problems and staying off of channel 13."
The Southern Highlands board still has to vote on whether Paul's $50 check will wipe the slate clean for Karen Hanks. We'll be following this closely to see if they make good on that.
If you've got a nominee for Contact 13's HOA Hall of Shame, send Darcy an email to email@example.com.