A challenge in deed

Boyette Springs, with 19 sets of deed restrictions, aims for uniformity. Experience shows that it will be an uphill battle.


 

Article Courtesy of The St. Petersburg Times

By EDDY RAMIREZ
Published April 9, 2005

RIVERVIEW - When Loren and David Bennett moved to Boyette Springs three years ago, they had much to boast about: a new four-bedroom house with a pool in a charming neighborhood of immaculate homes and tidy lawns.

Then, about a year and a half ago, on a stroll through the neighborhood, the couple became alarmed. One neighbor's front lawn had turned into "a graveyard" of weeds and grass that hadn't been mowed in weeks. Not far away, a house was painted bright orange with purple trim. Passers-by named it "the pumpkin house."

"Oh, my God! Did I move here?" Loren Bennett remembers wondering. After all, this was supposed to be a community with deed restrictions.

Bennett and other concerned homeowners decided to form a committee under the existing homeowners association that would begin aggressively enforcing the neighborhood standards and cracking down on habitual offenders.

On Monday, the homeowners association will update residents on the progress of its quest to bring the community under an enforceable set of deed restrictions. The meeting is at Boyette Elementary School.

Recently, the association discovered that Boyette Springs has 19 separate sets of deed restrictions. Of the 1,080 homes in the subdivision, only the residents in the rear 40 homes are obligated to pay dues and abide by community standards. The other 1,040 homes are not bound by the rules or dues requirements, so the association is toothless to impose fines or liens on those homes.

"It's really like not having deed restrictions at all," said Gloria Devine, a Realtor and a Boyette Springs homeowner.

The news also stunned LeRoy Dennison, now president of the association.

"When I found out that somebody could paint their house hot pink with purple polka dots ... and I couldn't do anything about it, that bothered me," he said.

Property values are at stake, he explained. Homes in this upper-middle-class subdivision risk depreciating if the association is penniless and powerless, Dennison said.

The association has proposed a solution: new deed documents that require every homeowner in Boyette Springs to pay $15 in annual dues and abide by one set of neighborhood standards that, among other things, regulate paint color and prohibit boats parked on driveways. Repeat offenders could face fines of up to $50 and, in extreme cases, the association could put a lien on a property but not foreclose on it.

A simple majority of residents within each of the 19 sections must sign and notarize the new deed documents for the entire subdivision to come under the same set of covenants. Otherwise, only those sections that had a majority would be bound by the rules. The question now is whether the association can persuade enough homeowners to agree to the mandatory dues and revised neighborhood standards before a June deadline. The association told homeowners at a December meeting that it would abandon the campaign if a majority did not agree to the new deed documents by June.

The Gestapo?

Experience in other communities has shown it will be an uphill battle.

Deed restrictions have always been a prickly issue. Residents are drawn to them for the certainty that property values will be maintained, but some are aggravated by the rigid uniformity. Sometimes, the most modest violation can result in thousands in fines and even lawsuits.

In October, a homeowners association in Bloomingdale East sued a family who, without permission, planted a flower bed to cover a patch of dead turf. In Valrico, a man sued a homeowners association after he was ordered to remove a U.S. flag from his front yard because the deed restrictions did not allow for such displays. In New Tampa, a 6-year-old boy with leukemia sought solace in a treehouse that violated deed restrictions.

The Boyette Springs Homeowners Association insists that the deed restrictions it has proposed are about fairness and common sense.

"We're not looking to be the Gestapo," Dennison said. "If you want to change the color of your house from a dark brown to a light brown, knock yourself out. We just don't want you to do something that people will have to put on sunglasses and go, "Holy smoke!' "

Not everyone is convinced.

Torri Wilson, who has lived in Boyette Springs for 16 years, agrees that deed restrictions can improve a neighborhood, but she worries about who interprets and enforces them.

"What happens if we get a rogue board?" she asked. "What's going to keep them from arbitrarily targeting me if one of them doesn't like my house?"

Waves of rules

Boyette Springs, on the south side of Boyette Road in Riverview, was developed in several phases by numerous builders since the mid 1980s. The last home was built in 2003.

Each developer established its own deed restrictions, setting the stage for the current dilemma.

In September, residents were mailed a 15-page draft of the proposed restrictions that would later be revised because many complained that the rules were either too vague or went too far.

The revised draft includes restrictions that prohibit unsightly conditions in any property, including permanent signs and excessive vegetation. They would require that boats, RVs and other commercial vehicles be kept behind a fence. If homeowners wanted to repaint their houses, they would have to stick to the color scheme of the neighborhood, mostly beige and light pastels.

The annual dues could go toward a scholarship fund reserve, the maintainance of common areas and for social events in the community.

So far, only about 200 homeowners have accepted the new deed restrictions.

Some board members suspect that many are still in the dark about the proposed restrictions. They either didn't read them or don't care, said Bob Speich, the former president of the association.

If Boyette Springs fails to collect enough signatures, association members said they will let the issue die.

But Devine, the Realtor who lives in Boyette Springs, said she won't give up.

"If it takes going door to door to get the signatures we need, we will do it," she said. "I know I will."

Eddy Ramirez can be reached at eramirez@sptimes.com or 661-2441.

WHAT'S NEXT

The Boyette Springs Homeowners Association general meeting is at 7 p.m. Monday at Boyette Elementary School, 10141 Sedgebrook Drive, where members will discuss ways to get more residents involved. For information, visit www.bshoa.org or e-mail bshoa@ij.net

 
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