"We Can't Wait to Get Our Hands on Your Money -- Or Even Your Home."

Article Courtesy of The Ventura County Star

By Anna Bakalis
Published: Sunday, July 13, 2008

No bikes. No playing on the grass or sidewalks. In fact, no outside recreation of any kind.

And if you complain too much, you could be fined $50.

That's what the residents of Stonegate Villas in Simi Valley are facing if their homeowners' association passes a new set of restrictive rules on July 24.

While the proposed rules don't specifically mention children, parents who live in the 79-unit condominium complex say they are being unfairly targeted.

"Where else are they supposed to go?" asked Janet Fountaine, who has four children living at home.

Near the pool, there used to be a sandbox with a small playground, but that was taken out. On architectural plans for the complex, the area is called "Kiddie Yard." It is now gated and filled in with grass.

Association board members did not return phone calls seeking comment.

Each homeowner pays monthly association fees of $280, raising about $22,000 a month that goes toward maintenance of the common areas the driveways, sidewalks and a swath of grassy land where the children now play.

Restrictions spelled out

But if the proposed rules go into effect this month, they will include these new restrictions:

  • No recreational activity allowed in common areas.
  • No bike riding allowed anywhere in the complex, including, but not limited to, walkways and grass areas.
  • No water games or horseplay in the pool area.
  • Only water noodles allowed in the pool area no rafts, boogie boards, Frisbees, skates or other toys.
  • Harassing a board member is an automatic fine of $50.

It is unclear what sparked the proposed rules, or if there were complaints about recreation in the common areas. The association cites "liability, property damage and personal injury" as reasons for banning recreational activity.

The complex is at Stow Street and Los Angeles Avenue, a busy corridor through the city, and the nearest park is about a mile away.

A spokeswoman for the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing said the proposed rules are not illegal because they don't single out children or a particular group, but they seem unusually restrictive.

"Common sense says when there are children in a community, you have to have someplace for them to play," said Betty Gwiazdon, the director of programming for the state agency.

Barry A. Ross, an Orange County-based lawyer who specializes in real estate law and homeowners' rights, agreed the rules are legal because they don't specifically mention children. A 1982 California Supreme Court ruling prohibits the banning of children from the common areas of residential housing complexes.

"Sounds like they're trying to cleverly get around the rule by saying it's not just children, but also adults," Ross said.

But Ross said the rules would adversely affect children. An argument could be made that they would prevent children from recreational activity and would not hold up in court, he said.

Board, attorney won't talk

Multiple calls to association board members Kim Irvin and President Richard Pagliarli were not returned. Member Tammy Collier was reached by phone but hung up when asked about the new rules.

Calls to the association's attorney, Jeffrey A. Beaumont of Rapkin Gitlin & Beaumont, which has offices in Woodland Hills and other cities in California, were not returned. The property management company, Westcom Property Services Inc., also did not return calls.

Robert Espinoza has lived at Stonegate for 15 years and was told his sons could not ride bikes or skateboard in the complex. He was also told to keep his garage door closed and walk his motorcycle to the edge of the complex before starting it.

"Sometimes it feels like jail here," Espinoza said.

He said he's thought about moving because of all the restrictions, but the current housing market prevents him from doing so.

The proposed rules were sent to homeowners by the five-member association board in a letter dated June 21. It read that homeowners could "send a letter in writing to the board with any comments or concerns before July 24."

One week later, resident Niko Evrard sent a letter to the board and all homeowners in the complex, detailing at least five aspects of the new rules with which she takes issue, including pets not being allowed to be walked in the common area and children not being allowed to play in common areas.

The following week, Evrard received a letter from attorney Beaumont ordering her to "cease and desist and to comply."

It further reads, "We have been advised that you have engaged in a long-term campaign of harassment against particular members of the association's Board of Directors."

Evrard said she has not spoken to any of the board members, that her communication has been limited to letters.

"I feel like I'm a prisoner in my own home," said Evrard, who lives in a condo with her husband and 9-year-old son.

Residents say the property management company for the complex has changed four times in the past five years. Before Westcom Property Services, GM Management Inc. worked with residents for two years. The company's last day was June 30. Before leaving, it sent a letter to all the homeowners saying the board was mismanaging association funds.

Questionable actions cited

The letter, signed by Greg Moses, president of GM Management, said that in 2006, one board member directed him "to charge $5,700 to one of the homeowners for interior repair for which the association was not responsible but improperly paid."

Later, Moses said, the board spent $6,215 to repair another unit for damage that was not the association's responsibility.

Moses said GM Management had advised the board that spending money in this way violated the California Civil Code, but that counsel was ignored.

In response to the GM letter, Beaumont sent a letter Monday to Stonegate Villas homeowners saying, "Information contained in the letter from GM contains grossly inaccurate, misleading and reckless statements."

Evrard, who once worked in property management, has started a petition to recall the board members. So far, she has about 25 signatures and will present the petition at the July 24 meeting.

Some people don't come forward because of fear of retribution, she said, and the monthly board meetings are sparsely attended. "We can't live in fear like this," Evrard said.