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Articles Posted in Enforcement Actions

EvonneAndris-srhl-law-200x300The firm’s latest Miami Herald “Real Estate Counselor” column is authored by partner Evonne Andris and appears in today’s edition of the newspaper.  The article, which is titled “Response to Negative TV News Report by HOA Shows How It’s Done,” focuses on a recent case from San Antonio, Texas, involving a homeowner’s car that was wrongfully towed by her HOA.  As often happens in such instances of community association missteps, the homeowner responded by reporting the incident to her favorite local TV news station.  Evonne’s article reads:

. . . “We looked into the claim,” begins the story from KENS 5, the city’s CBS affiliate. Jennifer Holmquist tells the station her son’s car was suddenly gone from their driveway, and they were about to report it stolen when they learned it had been towed by the Mountain Lodge Homeowner’s Association with no advance warning.

“Nothing on the door, no phone call, no email,” she complains to the reporter. She also bemoans that she was told by the towing company it would cost $300 to get the car back.

EAndris-Herald-clip-for-blog-11-20-22-103x300In similar situations of community association disputes across the country, what typically follows is an account of how the reporter attempted to get a response from the association, but none was forthcoming. In some cases, the journalists receive a written response from the association’s attorney that defends its actions and holds firm that they were in accordance with the community’s policies and regulations.

However, when the acts taken by an association are in error, simple no comment responses or those focusing on community policies and regulations may not be the best position to take. Such cases highlight the importance of a well thought out response. In this situation, it was verified that the removal of the vehicle on the community’s behalf was the result of a miscommunication with the HOA’s towing company, so the association and its board of directors had a decision to make.

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Nicole-Kurtz-2021-200x300The firm’s latest “Real Estate Counselor” column in the Miami Herald is authored by shareholder Nicole R. Kurtz and appears in today’s edition of the newspaper.  The article, which is titled “Community Association Disputes? Here’s How to Minimize and Avoid Them,” focuses on the most common types of association clashes, the damage they can do, and some of the best approaches for associations to steer clear of them.  It reads:

. . . [F]or most communities to realize the benefits that stem from effective association oversight, some disputes are inevitably bound to arise from time to time. Some of the most typical association clashes involve:

  • Matters arising from compliance with state laws and municipal regulations;
  • Financial issues, including collections, special assessments and reserves;
  • Rule enforcement, including violations, suspensions and fines;
  • Architectural review applications and decisions;
  • Amendments to governing documents;
  • Maintenance of community amenities, and rules governing their use;
  • A perceived lack of transparency, including ineffective communications of association rules, changes and operational procedures to owners and residents;
  • Seemingly inadequate responses to residents’ concerns and complaints;
  • Meetings and their discussions, agendas and notices;
  • Devising, implementing and enforcing new rules and restrictions;
  • Renovations and alterations to the common elements or common areas;
  • Maintenance of the common elements and areas;
  • Board of director election irregularities and concerns;
  • Vendor contracts.

NKurtz-Herald-clip-for-blog-10-9-22-103x300The most effective community association boards of directors understand their business decisions will inevitably lead to disputes from time to time, but they should seek to avoid perceived minor or frivolous disputes whenever possible. They should also try to minimize or avoid significant disputes that may negatively impact the association’s operations and sow discord within the community.

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For homeowners’ associations governing communities of single-family homes, one of the most difficult balancing acts to uphold is that of enforcement actions required against noncompliant homeowners over the physical state of their property. In the minds of many Americans, community associations have a negative perception and stigma for overzealous rules enforcement, but yet they cannot allow individual owners to flout important policies that help to maintain their communities’ property values.

After unsuccessful attempts to persuade an intractable owner to comply with the language provided in an association’s governing documents, the time may come to file a lawsuit against the violating member. While such action should not be taken lightly due to the potential costs and uncertainties of litigation, such lawsuits may be the only recourse left to associations facing obstinate owners who refuse to comply.

bbathandt-300x200Such appears to be the case with a recent lawsuit filed by the Boca Raton Bath & Tennis Club HOA against homeowner Lynn Min for alleged violations of several provisions found within the community’s governing documents. The suit, which was covered recently by www.BocaNewsNow.com, states:

“Owner is in violation of the provisions cited [in the governing documents] by virtue of their Property being in a state of disrepair, including a lack of maintenance to the home’s structure and roof, the exterior of the Property needs to be painted, the sod needs to be replaced, and the irrigation system is defective and needs to be repaired.”

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A report that aired in late November on 7News (WSVN-Fox) in South Florida focused on a local renter in a dispute with her condominium association over her motorcycle. While the property’s rules ban motorcycles, the tenant had apparently been explicitly told she would be allowed to keep and park her motorcycle at the property prior to signing her lease. Three years later after she’d been using and parking her motorcycle at the property without complaint, she received a notice from the association indicating that it had to go or it would be towed.

It appears that the tenant’s response was to call or email the TV station’s tip-line, and the end result was another thoroughly investigated and highly informative “Help Me Howard” segment by its senior reporter Patrick Fraser and long-time legal expert Howard Finkelstein.

The report chronicles how Alexa Polcyn had been allowed to use and keep her motorcycle at the property for over three years until the association suddenly began “hassling our landlord about it.” She tells Fraser that she had noticed the restriction on her lease but was expressly told by the association that her motorcycle was not going to be an issue.

wsvn-logoThe association was apparently true to its word until three years later in late 2021 when it decided it would begin enforcing its motorcycle ban. It issued her a written notice that the motorcycle had to go, so the question for the station’s legal expert was whether the association could now change its mind on an exception to its rule that it had previously granted?

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My fellow South Florida community association attorneys at our firm and I have noticed an increased number of media reports about condominium and HOA disputes in 2021.  Laura Manning-Hudson and I have written about a few of these in this blog in recent months.  Typically, these situations arise due to what may be characterized as an inadequate and ineffective response by the associations involved, and sometimes they are created by inadequate planning.

However, a recent report by NBC affiliate Channel 8 News (WFLA) in Tampa about a dispute over holiday lights at a local HOA provides a good example of the type of response that communities can offer to help mitigate difficult circumstances that may adversely affect the fabric of the community.  The response by the association’s attorney in an on-camera interview with the station’s reporter goes a long way towards balancing the entire story, and it may even pave the way for a positive outcome that could be the subject of a future report by the station.

The station’s story chronicles how the Moffa family of the Westchase community hired a company to install holiday lights on their roof and front yard on Nov. 6. Mr. Moffa tells the station’s reporter that the early date was the company’s only availability, and he was unable to climb up on the roof himself.

WFLA400-300x225As a result, he and his family are now facing fines for violating the Westchase Homeowners Association’s rules and restrictions, which state holiday lights cannot go up before Thanksgiving. The letter from the HOA, which he shares with the reporter, indicates the family could be fined $100 dollars a day, up to $1,000, if they refuse to remove the lights, which apparently is exactly what they intend to do.

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When it comes to coverage of community association disputes, nothing seems to draw the media’s attention more than quarrels involving the forced removal of unapproved family pets and service animals. One of the most recent examples is a report by CBS-12 News on a Boca Raton family that is fighting to keep its chickens and backyard coop, which they have maintained for the last 10 years.

The station’s report chronicles how the Ashley Park Homeowners Association has given Damir Kadribasic and his family a 14-day notice to get rid of the birds or start facing a fine of $100 per day. Kadribasic has retained an attorney and apparently intends to put up a fight. He says he has had the birds for the last 10 years with no complaints, and he showed the station a petition signed by his neighbors demanding that the HOA allow the chickens to stay.

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The family’s attorney says they were given a notice that consisted of a single sentence, and the association did not specify which bylaws were being violated. However, the station obtained a copy of the community’s bylaws, which do indeed state that only common domestic pets are permitted. To that, the owners’ attorney notes that the chickens are domestic because they are not being used commercially and are considered pets by the family. He also says that the HOA cannot selectively enforce its rules.

The station’s report concludes by noting that it asked the association for a response, but none was forthcoming. That was unfortunate for the HOA, because predictably the result was a one-sided report.  Click here to watch it on the station’s website.

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The GEICO Insurance TV commercials featuring an over-the-top HOA rules enforcer named Cynthia who takes a chainsaw to a noncompliant mailbox are hilariously satirical because they ring a bit too true.  Community associations have a negative image in the minds of many for perceived over-reach in their enforcement measures.  Unfortunately for associations, this stereotype is exacerbated by occasional media reports about HOAs and condominium associations being hit with numerous complaints from unit owners about their overly stringent enforcement and collections practices.

One such article, which appeared recently in the pages of the Star Tribune daily newspaper, focused on the disputes taking place between homeowners and their HOA’s board of directors at the Heritage Park community in north Minneapolis.  It chronicles how the association regularly sends violation letters and collects fines for what some residents see as minor infractions, and it includes an example of a homeowner who was ordered to remove parts of her garden or the association would do so and bill her for the cost.

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CSantisteban-200x300An article authored by the firm’s Christyne D. Santisteban is featured as the “Board of Contributors” expert guest commentary column in today’s edition of the Daily Business Review, South Florida’s exclusive business daily and official court newspaper.  The article, which is titled “Tennis Court Argument Snowballs Into $7M Federal Discrimination Suit Against HOA,” discusses how associations must be prepared to address and resolve disputes among unit owners over shared amenities and other matters by using a set process that typically includes letters from the association’s attorney, impartial board/committee meetings and hearings, and possibly also reasonable fines and suspensions.  Otherwise, these skirmishes could snowball into potentially dangerous confrontations that may expose associations to severe legal and financial liabilities, as a recent federal lawsuit with shocking allegations of discriminatory conduct illustrates.  Her article reads:

. . . The recent suit involves allegations of horrid discriminatory conduct and statements against homeowners Jeffrey and Deborah LaGrasso at the Seven Bridges community in Delray Beach, Florida. It seeks $7 million in compensatory and punitive damages from the community’s HOA and Rachel Aboud Tannenholz, who allegedly engaged in harassing behavior that included phone calls, text messages, personal visits to the plaintiffs’ home, and discriminatory posts on Facebook. dbrlogo-300x57The suit alleges the HOA and Tannenholz violated the federal Fair Housing Act by inflicting discriminatory behavior based on the LaGrasso’s religion and intentionally causing them emotional distress.

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Our firm’s other community association attorneys and I have all seen our fair share of disputes arising from unapproved property improvements in South Florida HOA communities over the years. However, the saga involving a diamond design in a homeowner’s driveway at the Equus community just west of Boynton Beach appears to be exceptionally combative, so much so that it drew the attention of the Palm Beach Post.

According to a recent article from the newspaper, the HOA has been trying to have homeowner Barry Rosenthal remove the decorative red diamond design (see photo below) for more than three years. Both parties appear to be very deeply entrenched in their positions.

In its lawsuit, the HOA claims the driveway design “was not in conformity with other approved driveway designs throughout the community.” driveway-diamondRosenthal had it installed as part of his new driveway project in 2017 without obtaining the HOA’s prior approval, and he was subsequently fined $1,000 and lost his usage rights to the community’s amenities, which include tennis courts and a fitness center.

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Readers of this blog may recall my recent article about a resident of the Ibis Golf and Country Club community in Palm Beach County who was creating an incredibly dangerous and destructive situation by feeding extraordinary amounts of food to vultures, alligators and other wildlife behind her home.  On Wednesday, Jan. 15, the homeowner agreed to pay $53,000 to settle a lawsuit brought by her community’s association.

In addition to the payment for the association’s fees and fines that is due by Feb. 14, Irma Acosta Arya was also permanently enjoined from any further feedings, meaning the court has issued an injunction against her prohibiting any future feedings under severe criminal and civil penalties.

According to a follow-up report on the case in the Palm Beach Post, the payment and injunction represent a great relief to the residents of the gated golf community, which borders a nature preserve in western Palm Beach County.

The suit alleged that Acosta Arya’s constant feedings of large quantities of food since 2016 attracted highly destructive flocks of vultures, which would vomit and defecate all over the community and neighboring properties (see video below from WPBF Channel 25 News), along with raccoons, alligators and a bobcat.  The judge initially issued a temporary injunction to prevent any further feedings, and he found Acosta Arya in contempt of court in December for violating the injunction after the association presented photos allegedly showing her feeding animals behind her house in recent months.

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