Senators told how pair lost house
Legislation planned to curb the power of homeowners groups.

Article Courtesy of the Sacramento Bee
By Michael Kolber 
Posted February 18, 2004

The Calaveras County couple who lost their home after not paying $120 in homeowner association dues had their day at the Capitol on Tuesday, if not their day in court.
The Senate Housing and Community Development Committee spent two hours hearing testimony on the intricacies of the state's homeowners association law and the details of the Calaveras case.

Senators said they plan to introduce legislation this session that would alter the powers of homeowners associations, although a new law likely would not remedy the situation of Thomas and Anita Radcliff.

The Radcliffs of Copperopolis lost their home in December, when it was sold at a foreclosure auction because they failed to pay $120 in homeowner association fees that were due in January 2003.

Joel Radcliff, one of their sons, told the committee that health and financial reasons prevented the couple from making the payment, but he said they made unsuccessful attempts to repay the debt during 2003. At one point, he said, the collection agency returned a check to them.

By the time of the auction, the Radcliffs owed $1,952, including late fees and collection charges.

The association's collection service said it made nearly a dozen attempts to collect from the Radcliffs before auctioning the 1,728-square-foot home on three acres. It sold for $70,000 even though it had been appraised for more than 3 1/2 times that amount.

"I am here to tell you about the tragedy that happened to my parents," Joel Radcliff told the committee. "Every penny of their life savings went into this home."

Homeowners associations can conduct nonjudicial foreclosures, which do not require a court hearing, to collect past-due fees. Skip Daum of the Community Associations Institute told the committee the associations need this tool to guarantee payment of fees and because judicial foreclosures are more expensive.

Lobbyists from the Congress of California Seniors, Consumers Union and the American Homeowners Resource Center said other remedies, including liens and small-claims court actions, would be just as effective without jeopardizing homes.

Norma Paz Garcia, an attorney for Consumers Union, recommended that the Legislature require associations to notify homeowners in person before beginning foreclosure, something that didn't happen in the Radcliffs' case.

"It seems to me we've gotten too far away from the concept of being neighbors when we can't go down the street and say, 'Listen, there's a problem with your house,' " Garcia told the committee.

The Radcliffs said they didn't know their home had been sold until they received an eviction notice from the new owner in January.

Last week, a Calaveras County judge dismissed that eviction, saying the Radcliffs had been improperly served with the eviction papers. The Radcliffs said before the hearing they believe the new owner is trying to serve them a new eviction notice.

Their lawyer, Mick Macomber, said he plans to file a lawsuit by Monday contesting the auction and seeking to return the property to the Radcliffs. He said the law governing homeowner association foreclosure may violate the state constitution.

Senate Housing Committee Chairwoman Denise Moreno Ducheny, D-San Diego, said she and Sens. Rico Oller, R-San Andreas, and Jackie Speier, D-Hillsborough, were each considering authoring legislation that would alter the foreclosure law, though they hadn't decided on what those changes should be.

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