Fence debate goes to court 
Chandler homeowner fighting association
By Adam Klawonn
Article Courtesy of The Arizona Republic
May 04, 2002 

Fence debate goes to court 
Chandler homeowner fighting association

By Adam Klawonn

CHANDLER - Jeff Watson installed a latticework fence to conceal his trash can, he thought he had found a $100 solution to appease the Talavera Homeowners' Association.

He was wrong and is now tangling with the Chandler HOA in court in what one expert calls a typical fight with a homeowners association.

"I don't think anyone knows what is really going on," says Watson, 43, a Honeywell sales team leader in Chandler.

The latticework sparked the legal battle between the association and Watson and wife, Cathy, after the HOA called it a violation of its regulations.

The nearly year-old saga is riddled with enough finger-pointing and drama to make a grizzled attorney sigh.

"I've been practicing for 25 years in Chandler," said Watson's lawyer Clifford Frey. "And this one seems like you just want to sit back and shake your head."

Former HOA board member Ann Billings says she remembers board meetings that ended in shouting matches on the issue. 

Talavera HOA board president Bill Morton, 51, did not return calls. 

Talavera's lawyer, Jeff Corbin, an HOA specialist, says it's a small case that is typical of most HOA lawsuits.

"We always hope these cases can settle," he said.

The issue involves a May 2001 Talavera newsletter telling homeowners the HOA would begin enforcing a rule that garbage cans be hidden from public view. The newsletter included a snapshot of a portable latticework utility screen as one solution. 

Watson had three choices: Put up the screen, keep his trash can in the garage or put it in his back yard. He chose the screen, complete with a vine.

But when only three of the HOA's 64 homes put up screens, the board reversed itself and banned the screens. One resident has since removed his while another was allowed to let his stand.

Watson refused to remove his.

The HOA also claims Watson never filed required paperwork for architectural review of the latticework. Watson says the board lost it. 

Now, Watson and the HOA are waiting for a trial date in Chandler Justice Court. 

Morton has an injunction pending against Billings for an altercation the two had in the street last December.

Now she isn't allowed within 10 feet of Morton's home, according to court documents. They live cater-corner from one another.

Billings, 57, a Realtor and a customer service representative for Southwest Airlines, said the Watsons' case is draining board funds. 

"This case is ridiculous," she said. "They (the Watsons) were willing to settle out of court."

Watson, who moved to Chandler three years ago from Southern California, says he doesn't intend to stick around his neighborhood, regardless of the case's outcome.

"At this point, we're talking to our Realtor," he said.

And if they find a home they like, he said, "The first question we're going to ask is, 'Is there an HOA here?'

"If the answer is yes, then we're moving on."