Homeowner association blocks guests when fees go unpaid
Melissa Solis, who lives in Stoneybrook West, says she feels like the homeowners association is trying to humiliate her for not paying overdue fees. (GEORGE SKENE, ORLANDO SENTINEL / March 16, 2010)
Poll: Are HOAs out of control?
A gated community won’t let homeowners who don’t pay their dues use the clubhouse or pool. However, it’s also blocking their visitors from entering the community. Are homeowners groups out of control?
Yes. Not letting visitors through the subdivision’s gates is outrageous.
No. Either abide by the rules and pay your dues — or move.
Maybe. HOAs need funds to operate, but it still seems harsh.
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By Mary Shanklin, Orlando Sentinel
1:16 a.m. EDT, March 17, 2010
Melissa Solis said she understands that she can’t use her community pool or clubhouse because she’s late paying her homeowner-association fees.
But it’s unfair, she said, that security guards at the gated entrance to her neighborhood prevent her friends, family, babysitter and even the delivery man from Winter Garden Pizza Co. from getting to her home. They wouldn’t even allow her mother-in-law inside the gates for a family birthday party.
Instead, she has to meet her visitors outside the community’s entrance, pick them up and drive them inside in her car. Unlike residents who are current with their fees, even Solis cannot enter through the automatic gates; she must instead get the guard’s approval to access her home.
“I think it’s more them trying to humiliate us,” said Solis, who works in food services. “It’s very embarrassing for our daughter. She’s 10 years old, and she doesn’t understand that the economy is tight and Daddy doesn’t have a job.”
Stoneybrook West’s guard-shack standoff underscores the mounting frustration of homeowner and condominium associations in the Orlando area and across Florida. Many associations face mounting delinquency rates of 30 percent to 50 percent, in a state with one of the highest foreclosure rates in the country. As state legislators meet in their annual session this month and next, they will consider several bills designed to ease the financial woes of homeowner and condominium associations.
One bill, filed by state Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, would allow associations to suspend residents from using common areas if they are three months or more behind paying fees. It also empowers associations to collect fees from renters, and prohibits association members from serving on the board if they are three months delinquent.
“These homeowner associations are crippled, and they’re looking for any kind of edge,” said Sarasota lawyer David Muller, co-executive director of the Community Association Leadership Lobby, which represents more than 4,000 associations. “But actually preventing a guest from accessing the gates — that’s something that’s going a little too far, in my opinion and when concerning the statutes.”
But the law is on Stoneybrook’s side, said Orlando lawyer Jim Gustino, who represents the 13-community golf-course development in Winter Garden. State Circuit Judge Thomas B. Smith ruled last year that the association for sister development Stoneybrook East, in east Orange County, could restrict guest access for residents who are 90 days late making payments and who were given the chance to start a payment plan.
“We have to bring whatever lawful pressure that we have to bear on these folks. No one feels good about it, but it does result in collecting money,” Gustino said. “Many folks will, by some miracle, come up with the money they couldn’t come up with before, because they don’t want their family members to be denied entry.”
As a result of such actions, Stoneybrook West’s delinquency rate is 5 percent or 6 percent, Gustino said, but only because it has been aggressive in keeping residents up to date. Dozens of homeowners who face financial hardships have entered into payment plans, he said.
“If you don’t take an aggressive enforcement position, you will discover you will be ignored,” the lawyer said. “Associations try to be nice to people and try to be more accommodating than Stoneybrook West is with its people and, as a result, those association are in distress. They have to increase dues and, as a result, they have more defaults.”
Stoneybrook’s actions did raise some concerns among lawyers and other individuals who cited Florida statutes that require associations to provide access to their residents.
Veteran homeowner-association board member Hobie Fisher, who serves on two boards for the Avalon Lakes community in east Orange, said his board have been actively taking over properties in foreclosure. But prohibiting access to residents’ guests, he said, is going too far.
“I think that’s wrong. You can’t deny people the right to come in there. You can’t deny people and their guests the right to property,” Fisher said.
Stoneybrook’s prohibition of certain guests also raises concerns about gated communities. Fisher, half jokingly, said such subdivisions should just charge visitors a small toll to help underwrite community expenses.
Solis said her view of living behind gates has changed since the blockade began keeping her friends and family at bay.
“I moved here thinking, ‘A gated community, how nice,’ ” she said. “If I knew then what I know today, I would have never gotten into a gated community.”
Gustino said the very expense of operating a guarded-and-gated entry makes it imperative that all residents pay their fair share of those security costs.
Solis estimated that she is behind about $1,400 on her association fees. She said she would like to get current, but her family’s budget has been cut due to her husband’s unemployment. She said she has been tolerating the gate situation for more than a year before she got fed up this week and decided to speak out.
“You know, I’m not going to back down because they try to intimidate you,” she said. “At least I’m going to hold my head up.”
Mary Shanklin can be reached at email@example.com or 407-420-5538.
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