HOA gets $8,000 from homeowner over a bill of $66

By Laurie Roberts
Article Courtesy of Arizona Republic
May 1, 2004 

To look at them, Dan and Barbara Stroia don't seem like troublemakers. She's a paralegal who retired early because of her health. He worked construction until he got injured. They don't come across as the sort who set out to take on their homeowners association.

Clearly, though, they must be quite the dastardly duo. When they got crosswise with their HOA, no fewer than five attorneys and five assistants were put on the case. And when it was done, the couple was out nearly $8,000.

So what, you might wonder, did this fearsome twosome do to wind up owing $8,000? What horror did they inflict on their HOA?

They fell behind in their dues. By $66.

"It's madness," Barbara Stroia told me. "We are sick over this whole thing."

In 1999, the Michigan couple bought a rental house in Higley, hoping to someday retire there. Meanwhile, they hired a property manager to take care of things.

Enter the Towne Meadows Homeowners Association. In 2001, the HOA board raised quarterly dues from $36 to $42. The Stroias never got word of it, however, and their property manager, Charlie Brown, continued paying $36 a quarter. 

Now, you might think the folks who manage the HOA, when the $36 checks continued for six quarters, might call Brown. Or maybe call when he failed to pay a one-time $30 assessment he didn't know about.

Instead, they sued the Stroias, after twice sending them notices that they were behind. The Stroias, who at the time were bouncing between Michigan and Arizona due to her medical condition, say they were having trouble with their mail and never got the notices.

In October 2002, attorney Jonathan Olcott filed suit seeking $565, including the inevitable late charges and legal fees. A month later, property manager Brown got wind of the dispute and quickly paid the debt, which by then had risen to $850. "I paid the bill so it wouldn't get any worse," he said. "I figured if I paid the bill we could work out the facts later."

Sadly, it didn't work out that way. In December 2002, the Stroias were served with the lawsuit, three weeks after Brown had paid the $850. They countersued, contending that the fees were ludicrous.

In July, Chandler Justice of the Peace Ron Johnson ordered the couple to pay Olcott $7,092 to cover fees racked up by no fewer than 10 employees of his firm. This, on top of the $850 already paid.

For $66 in unpaid dues.

Olcott says it's the Stroias' fault that they're out $8,000. They wouldn't walk away when he offered to dismiss the case a few months after it was filed, and so his legal fees continued to mount.

"People just get emotional about things because it's their home," Olcott said. "The Stroias, unfortunately, reacted very emotionally."

Apparently, they weren't alone because the HOA board and management company got tossed, according to Kevin Bishop, whose Renaissance Community Partners now manages the HOA. Bishop says such a thing would never happen on his watch.

"This is the nightmare story," he said. "This industry needs to stop and focus on the fact that there are actually people living in these homes, and they're actually human beings."

Bishop has this radical idea that it's a mistake for HOAs to hire attorneys to collect $66 debts. 

So what, you ask, would he have done?

"We would have called the property manager and said, 'Hey, you're paying $6 less than you're supposed to. What's up?' "

Imagine that.