Attorney General Bondi sues HOA foreclosure companies she says preys on poor
Tampa, Fla. – Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi is taking action against a Tampa company she says is taking advantage of financially distressed Floridians.
It involves a company that profited from home owners association foreclosure auctions and some of the same players ABC Action News exposed in an I-Team investigation.
The lawsuit alleges that HOA Problem Solutions, Inc. and a number of related companies have victimized homeowners, renters and homeowner associations for more than three years.
Why There’s No Protection for Members When Community Associations “Go Broke”
You’re at a board of directors meeting of your homeowners association. Things have been happening around the community—not good things—and you want to find out why. Why have they closed the pool? Why is the landscaping looking so bad? What’s with the rumor that the property manager might be let go. You know that money has been tight for the association. You’re aware that assessments haven’t gone up for years, and now word has it that a large number of owners have stopped paying altogether.
At the meeting the president of the association announces further cutbacks—the association’s insurance may have to be dropped. There have been no deposits to the reserve account for several years and, worse, the account has been drained over time to meet monthly obligations. The board approves a 5 percent special assessment, but it’s not likely to go far with all there is to do and pay. A report from the manager confirms your worst fears: re-roofing of the project (including for your unit) will have to wait, and even temporary repairs to the leaking portions of the roof may not be done for months. There’s no money to pay for it.
Budget process ‘missteps’ add to confusion
Despite a letter sent to all 237 homes in Summer Trees West that declared the 2017 budget “adopted,” the board of directors will meet as planned Dec. 27 to discuss and vote on a 2017 spending plan that is expected to raise the monthly Assessment each homeowner pays from $78 yo $85 per month.
READ THE FULL STORY
HOA moving forward with Shaffer buyout?
An attorney for the Summer Trees West HOA filed an “HOA Release of Lien” concerning 107 Cypress Pond Road on Dec. 5, retreating – at least for now – from a foreclosure threatened against a homeowner deemed a “nuisance” by the Association’s board of directors. The move, however, raises as many questions than it answers for Association members wondering where the money for all of this is going to come from.
READ THE FULL STORY | THE AGREEMENT (PDF)
2017 budget sparks frank talk about priorities
The future of the community pool, cable TV contract and costly litigation over three homes dominated the discussion of the Summer Trees West HOA board of directors on Wednesday, Nov. 23.
The board is expected to revise its draft budget for 2017 in response to comments made by a handful of Association members on Wednesday and after meeting privately with its lawyer next week to discuss highly contentious litigation with the owners of 107 Cypress Pond Road and a husband and wife who moved into 26 Summer Trees Road after its owner died and are trying to get title.
The draft budget had called for the monthly assessment fees paid by the 237 homes in the Association to rise from $78 to $81 per month, which HOA treasurer Leslie Tucker attributed mostly to “inflation.” But after Association members John Springer and Terry Nixon questioned whether budgeting just $6,000 for legal bills next year was realistic considering that at least $24,000 was spent on lawyers this year, the board agreed to consider raising the legal expense to $20,000 in the 2017 spending plan.
If there is no consensus or will to draw down from the Association’s “operating savings” – monies set aside from the 2007 sale of Association land to a developer – the increase in the legal expense line item could cause the 2017 assessment to rise as much as $87 per month per unit, Association secretary Bill Roberts told those in attendance. The final budget is expected to be adopted when the board meets on Dec. 27.
In response to questions and comments by Springer, Roberts said that neither Association president John Lyon nor the board’s lawyer has provided the board with a copy of a Nov. 1 agreement signed by the owner of 107 CPR and Lyon, who was acting with the board’s power of attorney. Lyon was not present on Wednesday night.
Under the agreement, the board agreed to remove liens on 107 CPR that were placed to try to get the homeowner to reimburse the HOA for legal bills incurred by the HOA board that stemmed from demands for records by Association member Raymond Shaffer Jr. In exchange for a release of the liens, Shaffer agreed to sell his house by July 1, 2017, or to sell it to the HOA for $85,000.
VIDEO: No money set aside to buy out ‘nuisance’
As of this writing, the liens still have not been released despite a Nov. 10 deadline set down in the agreement. Noting that the board has not lived up to the agreement that they authorized President Lyon to negotiate, Terry Nixon said several thousand dollars appear to have been wasted. Secretary Roberts conceded that the 2017 budget as currently written does not include any funds to purchase 107 CPR, should that agreement somehow get back on track after a shaky start.
HOA PULLING PLUGS ON TV, POOL?
In other business, there were extensive discussion on the HOA’s long-term contract with Spectrum/Bright House for community wide cable TV service as well as the future of the Association pool.
On the cable TV issue, the board appointed a committee on Wednesday night to fully investigate the existing contract with Spectrum (formerly Bright House). Secretary Roberts said that although the contract calls for 5% percent annual increases, it appears that the increases have been more like 7% or 8% percent.
Video of Discussion on Legal Bills
Currently, $49 of each $78 monthly assessment is paid to Spectrum. A show of hands on Wednesday night revealed that most HOA members pay Spectrum directly on top of that for premium channels, additional boxes, cable phone service and Internet service. The new committee will investigate what individual HOA members are paying to ensure that Spectrum is living up to the contract. The members will also investigate whether Association members would prefer to just deal with Spectrum directly altogether, which would significantly lower the HOA operating budget and perhaps enable a board beset by pressing operational, property and legal issues to focus attention on those matters.
Video: Pool upgrade to cost $35,000 or more
No firm decision was made on Wednesday concerning the fate of the pool property at 211 Summer Trees Road. As much as $35,000 (and perhaps more) is needed to fix a hole in the pool, repair the leaching field and to hook up the existing restrooms to the city sewer system. HOA vice president Joe Richotte spearheaded a discussion about whether the pool is worth fixing at all considering that, in his opinion, perhaps only 2% of homeowners use the pool on a regular basis.
The board of directors of Summer Trees HOA will meet again at 6 p.m. on Tues., Dec. 27, at the VFW Hall on S. Williamson Boulevard.
Even More Legal Bills on the Horizon?!!
At the November 15th 2016 meeting yet another legal battle has surfaced, despite the secretary, Bill Roberts, running a very positive and controlled meeting.
James Leone distributed a copy of the letter sent to the board Demanding a Retraction and Correction. Named in the letter was the HOA, John Lyons and Joe Richotte. There are a number of accusations of including slander, harassment and defamatory accusations. It been reported that a judge involved with the case has asked James Leone if he has been keeping track of his hours on the case, the implication being there could be more HOA Bills.
The board revealed that in the 2017 draft budget we will have spent $24,000 in legal fees in 2016, or just over $100 per household. The budgeted amount for 2016 was a mere $2,400, so we spent 10 times the amount budgeted. We were told that we would recoup our legal fees on the 107 CP case, when in fact the final agreement signed states that each party is responsible for their own respective legal bills. Those legal bills are what contributed to the $12,000 projected loss in 2016.
Meanwhile, Joe Richotte, at the same November board meeting made a statement to the audience that he has not used an HOA lawyers to address his charges against a neighbor and fellow home owner.
Joe Richotte Statement on legal fees
Joe Richotte at the October Board meeting publicly, by name, openly maligned, 3 different families in our community, including one who currently volunteers and serves on the board. It’s this needless, reckless and divisive behavior that just adds gasoline to the many burning legal fires and puts the all of us at more legal jeopardy.
The 2017 draft budget calls for $6,000 in legal spending. It’s hard to understand how we expect to achieve this with all the many open legal battles. As a reminder, Atlantic Community Association Management and Accounting, Inc warned us that legal bills related to 107 CP could climb to 100K, and that is just one open legal case.
Perhaps both the board and home owners need to ask ourselves two important questions. Are we best served by having a single board member who can lead us down damaging and expensive legal roads? It’s time to invite home owners into the process, not alienating them. It appears Bill Roberts took some great steps to start that process at the November meeting. Let us hope he can continue that momentum, but it could be challenging if there is another board member actively working against him.
The second question to be considered, is it wise, to have legal council who, seemingly, wants to see more legal action and less reconciliation. The gambling with our money needs to stop. Win or lose they get paid.
Our team had a meeting and after much discussion we find this clause in the Shaffer/STWHOA agreement as great cause of concern.
It seems that the Board and HOA Lawyer went out of their way to include this restriction of discussion of Land Sale. It raises even more questions as to what is going on.
Will our HOA be purchasing a house?
A Summer Trees West homeowner long deemed a “nuisance” by the HOA board for asking too many questions agreed Tuesday to sell the house he shares with his 89-year-old father to the HOA for $85,000 if he fails to sell it by July 1.
The mediated agreement will bring an end of the threat of foreclosure and a long-simmering dispute between the Summer Trees HOA Inc. and the Shaffer family. The details contained in the six-page document, however, are likely to fuel a new wave of criticism from a family that owns three units on Summer Trees Road.
The agreement hammered out over eight hours essentially muzzles Ray Shaffer Jr. forever concerning HOA matters and management, and specifically bars “any discussion between Shaffer and any third party regarding Association business, namely the Association’s land sales that occurred in 2006, the Association’s manner of assessments, the Association’s accounting, or the Association’s manner of dispute with any other member.”
Although he must remain quiet now, Shaffer has been very critical of the 2006 sale of Association land fronting Taylor Road to a developer, who received a no-interest loan from the HOA that is still raising eyebrows. He also criticized how the HOA books are kept, spending without proper board votes, over billing of Assessments and the way the HOA board responds to requests for records and conducts its meeting.
The reference to disputes with other members may be a reference to the HOA’s heavy-handed letter of Sept. 14 demanding “royalties” and threatening to sue Henry Springer of Summer Trees Road for publishing board minutes and snippers from an HOA newsletter – even though both are published by the HOA online already. A new board member confirmed last month that the board was concerned that Springer also published his “opinions.”
Shaffer declined comment. We will e-mail “The Board” for comment, but the members never respond. The agreement was signed by HOA president John Lyon, who was given Power of Attorney by the board in a secret motion made between regular Association meetings that was not unanimous.
The bulk of the agreement is contained in the first two pages. It provides that:
- The Shaffers will close on their sale of the property by July 1, 2017.
- If they fail to close, the HOA will buy the house for $85,000.
- The HOA has the right to match any offer made on the property before July 1, 2017.
- Within 10 days, the HOA will release the lien on the property.
- Shaffer shall “cease and desist his ‘investigations’ of Association matters … [and] any communication with any other party regarding Association matters.”
- Either party is barred from disparaging the other. (as HOA Chairman Joseph Richotte did publicly at last month’s meeting.)
- The Shaffers and the HOA will each pay their own lawyer fees. (The HOA fees for its lawyer are believed to be over $25,000 to date, some portion is related to the Shaffer dispute).
- Either side is free to disclose the Agreement.
Although the motion to give HOA president John Lyon power of attorney to mediate the case on behalf of the board was not done legally, it is not expected that the agreement reached Tuesday will be presented to the board for a vote.
Anyone wishing to comment may do so by emailing Info@SummerTreesNews.com
The Importance of a Proper Agenda For Association Board Meetings
Because most homeowners’ association board meetings are open to the association members, in order to provide the members with sufficient advance notice of items of business that will be acted upon at a particular meeting, the association must provide the homeowners with a proper agenda of the items that will be acted upon at the meeting.
Typically, the agenda for a meeting of an association’s directors is delivered to the homeowners at the same time as the notice of the meeting. Items of business that are acted and/or voted upon at a meeting of the association’s directors must have been included on the agenda that was circulated prior to the meeting unless: (i) the item merely involves responding to statements or questions from members, or seeking clarification of a question, or delivering announcements or reports on board activities; (ii) the item involves an informational matter or administrative task that the board refers to management personnel, staff or other agents; (iii) if the item involves an emergency situation that arose after the agenda for a meeting was distributed and it requires immediate action; and (iv) the item in question had previously been included on a recent agenda and the action on the item was continued to the current meeting.
2017 Budget Plan Released:
Legal fee’s puts STW HOA in financial hole for over $12,000 in 2016
The monthly assessment fee paid by owners of the 237 homes governed by the Summer Trees West HOA will rise to $81 per month – an increase of $3 per month per unit – according to the 2017 operating budget expected to be approved by the HOA board on Nov. 15.
The spending plan as drafted by a person or persons unknown would, if approved, increase spending on lawyers over the level budgeted in 2016; provide no funds for a newsletter; and double the amount budgeted for sidewalk/driveway repair.
Over all, operating expenses would rise about $6,000 for 2017 to $230,364. For the year 2016 we spent $12,185 MORE than we had from incoming revenue. It’s unclear where that $12,185 will be coming from to close that gap.
Conspicuously missing from the budget is any reference to how the HOA would honor its agreement to buy 107 Cypress Pond Road for $85,000 if its owners fail to do so by July 1, as they formally agreed to do on Nov. 1 to settle a threatened foreclosure over a $6,000 lien.
The agreement was reached despite the fact the threatened foreclosure by the HOA apparently violated a Florida law that bars the forced sale of homestead property over unpaid legal fees. Despite its dubious legality, the lien was placed on the house because its owners had alleged numerous violations of the HOA’s governing documents, bylaws and Florida laws that govern how HOAs operate.
Although no lawsuit was filed by the homeowners, the HOA decided to hire an attorney to silence the critics, declared the homeowners a “nuisance” under a vague and unenforceable bylaw, sent the homeowners a bill for legal fees and then slapped a lien on the house when the bill went unpaid.
When the HOA board voted to place the lien on 107 Cypress Pond Road this year, they told Association members that the HOA’s fees would be paid by the “nuisance” homeowners. That did not happen; the agreement reached Nov. 1 calls for the HOA to pay its own legal fees. That’s how it works in the real world; if you hire someone to advise you and write nasty letters on your behalf, you cannot expect the target of your venom to pay your bills.
MORE MONEY FOR THE LAWYERS
According to the 2017 budget circulated this week, just $2,400 was budgeted for the HOAs lawyers in 2016 but more than four times that amount – $10,339 – was spent through Sept. 30.
And the lawyers are not done feeding from our trough.
The budget estimates that the lawyers will be paid an additional $14,000 before this year is up – bringing the total to $24,000 that the HOA will spend on lawyers this year. For 2016, we had $2,400 budgeted for legal fees, so we are 10 times over budget on that line item.
The 2017 budget sets aside just $6,000 for lawyers, which is extremely optimistic considering that the actions concerning 107 Cypress Pond Road and 26 Summer Trees Road have not concluded, and considering we spent $24,000 in 2016.
It is unclear how the Association would raise the $85,000 for 107 Cypress Pond Road if the owners fail to sell to a third party by July 1, under the agreement executed on Nov. 1 without any input from Association members.
If the HOA buys the house, the board conceivably could draw funds from the account set up with the proceeds from the 2007 sale of three HOA-owned lots totaling .42 acres near Taylor Road. Those lots were sold to a developer for $142,924. Association member Bob Rhein, a commercial real estate broker, chaired a committee that recommended the sale at the time.
“The upside of selling is that we will have funds for emergencies and improvements as needed to our common buildings, thus eliminating or reducing the need for any special emergency or capital assessments,” Rhein wrote in a letter to HOA members on Feb. 21, 2007.
Perhaps the money could have been used to file permits to legalize the “clubhouse,” the small, apparently uninsured building near the shuffle board courts that the City of Port Orange says never received a Certificate of Occupancy.
In any event, it would be ironic if the HOA used proceeds from the land sale in its efforts to silence the “nuisance” homeowners and force them to leave the community. But that is not the only option for purchasing the home.
Two others come to mind: 1) The HOA could apply for a bank loan 2) each of the 236 other units could be assessed about $380 each.
The budget will be voted on at a meeting of the Summer Trees West HOA board on Tuesday, Nov. 15, at the Good Will, 1752 Dunlawton Ave. The meeting begins at 6 p.m.
2016 Projections are that we spent over $12,000 more than we took in revenues
2106 Projections are we spent $24,000 in Legal Fees (10X budgeted amount)
2017 Monthly Assessment will rise to $81.00 per month.
2017 Legal Fee are BUDGETED to be a optimistic $6,000 for year.
2017 Budget has no line items expense for newsletters (which used to be offset by revenue costing nothing to home owners)
2017 Budget does not speak to how the 107 Cypress Rd. Unit if that occurs.
Apparently the post card mailing hit a nerve with certain board members (some are trying to do the right thing for us). They are running around saying things we publish are not true. We only seek for everyone to know the truth. If you the board would like to debate in public the issues raised we would be happy to do that at the next board meeting or a special meeting. Just say the word.
If you would like the source or backup information for anything published here just email Info@SummerTreesNews.com, then you can decide for yourself. Of course you could try and ask the board directly, if you do and actually get a response, ask for the documentation. Trust but verify!!
Just what was that check for?
The story goes like this. A Summer Trees home owner finds out that they overpaid fees to the HOA when they purchased their home. After they discover that over payment they go back to the board, who writes them one or more check(s) for some amount, but as a condition of that payment, they have to sign a confidentially agreement not disclosing the payment was made. Does this sound above board? Shouldn’t home owners’ association members have complete transparency to how their money is being spent? What lawyer would involve themselves in such a transaction? There are more questions than answers…but secret payments are great cause of concern.
$100,000 in Legal Bills??
At the June 2015 Board Meeting the ongoing dispute between certain board members and the owners of 107 Cypress Rd. was discussed. The penalties imposed are leading us down potentially a very long road of expensive lawsuits.
We were told that legal bills could climb as high as $100,000 as per John Lee of Atlantic Community Association. (the clip below is from the actual minutes, so it can’t be denied it was stated and is being used here under the Fair Use Doctrine). In any event, the assessment could be $422 per Unit. At the special meeting we were told we were looking at $10,000 in legal bills (as of end of Sept. we are just shy of $25,000 in legal expenses)
Of course, if STW HOA loses, the amount could climb even higher if judge rules that the HOA is responsible for all the legal bills due to a ruling in favor of the home owner. That does not include potential suit the home-owners might be considering. Based on comments made in public by BOD and in some cases recorded in minutes there might be a case for slander and libel. Words do matter and the BOD could have put us in a very precarious position
This raises a number of questions:
1) Does the HOA and individual board members have proper insurance coverage to cover claims in the event of losing? It’s a fair question considering that its been said even our “clubhouse” insurance is in question.
2) What financial position would the STW-HOA, and all of the home owners, be in if either the judge or the insurance company determines that the suit was either a) dispute between two neighbors and the HOA was used to punish the neighbor? or b) The judge rules that the “fines” were punitive and a form of SLAPP suit to quiet a home owner asking questions of the HOA. c) Was due process was afforded to the home owner, and if not, how might that affect the outcome of any potential legal action.
3) How did this get so far?! Are we getting the best legal advise or is it a way for attorney’s to get lots of billable hours. Win or lose they get paid.
4) Why is the HOA gambling with our money? This could have been resolved in a productive and much less expensive method.
If that isn’t enough, the HOA BOD and it’s lawyer opened up another potential legal can of worms over a home owner raising questions about HOA issues via his website. That action might prove to be even MORE expensive! Just the threat of the lawsuit in that case clearly opens us up to a huge SLAPP lawsuit and perhaps potential First amendment violations
It might be time to rethink our strategy. Mark my words, This is not going to end well.
STW HOA lawyer demands ‘royalties’ from elderly blogger
A self-described “citizen journalist” abruptly shut down two websites devoted to Summer Trees West HOA affairs after receiving a letter from an HOA lawyer demanding payment of “royalties” and ordering him to “cease and desist” publishing Association minutes and other documents that are already posted elsewhere online.
“I was sort of stunned when I received the letter. I knew that a few people on the HOA board like to use their lawyer to bully people into submission and silence them,” Springer said. “I guess this shows just how far some people on the board are willing to go to try to silence people they deem to be their critics.”
So Just how is a Nuisance defined?
STW: No owner may undertake any activity, in the opinion of the Board of Directors of the Association, constitutes a nuisance to the Association.
Below is Reprinted with permission
In 2013, the STW HOA deleted the very detailed definition of what constitutes a “nuisance” and replaced it with this vague statement. Question: Did a lawyer who was paid funds to help the board carry out its fiduciary duties to HOA members really advise “The Board” that such a vague statement would stand up to the “Rule of Reasonableness” standard Florida courts apply? A 1st year law student could get this section of the bylaws voided for vagueness. – https://www.facebook.com/STWTRUTHSQUAD