Courtesy of The Tampa Tribune
February 27, 2009\
ZEPHYRHILLS - Betmar Acres has offered to settle a lawsuit against mobile home owner Cheryl Okke, but she has yet to accept the offer.
"I have not verbally agreed or signed anything," Okke said.
The park's homeowners' association sued Okke and Karsten Gallery of Homes in an effort to force the removal of her mobile home, which violated the community's bylaws. The association board voted unanimously this week to grant a variance for the mobile home, but only if Okke and her mobile home dealer agreed to pay their own legal fees.
"I did not bring the lawsuit," she said. "Significant out-of-pocket expenses have been incurred."
Association president Gus Clark said the board reversed itself when members learned that a fellow board member, Harry Taylor, had withheld information concerning Okke's case. Specifically, Taylor did not tell the board about a settlement offer that was proposed during an arbitration hearing in September.
"Naturally, I have a problem with that," Clark said. "That's why I called the meeting."
Taylor could not be reached for comment.
The case has divided the 1,670-home community, and hundreds have signed petitions supporting Okke. Association trustee Marshall Wagner, who testified for the community in a court hearing in January, resigned from the board along with two other trustees.
"My decision to resign was a direct effect of that document that we did not know existed," Wagner said. "We could have walked away in September. Do I have the right to be upset? You bet."
At issue was a discrepancy between the community's bylaws and its deed restrictions. The deed restrictions say property owners cannot install mobile homes unless they are new. The homeowners' association bylaws further restrict owners from installing new mobile homes that are more than a year old.
"By the terms of my deed restrictions, this house is 100 percent legal," Okke said. "The bylaws do not supersede the deed restrictions - and that point has gotten lost in all the drama."
Okke said she was not aware of the year-old rule, which was adopted by the board a few weeks after she purchased her lot in 2007 - and before she actually moved into the community. When she decided to replace the existing 1971 trailer with a 2005 model the following year, she thought she was following the rules.
The unit had never been titled and would have complied with the bylaws that were in effect when Okke closed on her property.
Clark said the board would have acted differently if it had all the information. "There's a little bit of fault on both sides," he said. "Hindsight is a great thing. Let's just hope we can move on from here."
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