Local candidate for judge sued for HOA fees

Article Courtesy of  The Ledger

By John Chambliss

Published July 4, 2018

BARTOW — A lawsuit filed by a homeowner’s association states that a candidate for circuit judge and her husband did not pay their maintenance fees for nearly two years.

A one-day trial is expected to begin on Tuesday before County Judge Susan Barber in a case filed by Clubhouse Heritage Property Owners’ Association, Inc., against Melissa Gravitt, a candidate for a seat on the 10th Judicial Circuit bench, and her husband, Blaine.

Gravitt, a former prosecutor, is running for the Group 10 judgeship against Keith Merritt and Lee Cohen. The election is Aug. 28.

She said in an email that all maintenance dues have been paid in full and directed any remaining questions to her lawyer’s response to the allegations in the lawsuit.

In a written response to the complaint, Ben Hardin, the lawyer for the Gravitts, wrote that the couple paid all their fees.

“Therefore, no past due assessments, interest, and/or costs and expenses of collection, including attorney fees, are owed,” Hardin wrote. “Further, Gravitts’ current statement of account for 2018 reflects no past due amount owed.”

In the response, Hardin, of Lakeland, details the dates when the Gravitts paid.

Hardin did not return a phone message. His administrative assistant said he told her that he would discuss the circumstances of the case after the trial.

The lawsuit, which was filed Dec. 7, 2017, states that assessments made on the South Lakeland property since Jan. 1, 2015 went unpaid.

On March 16, 2016, the homeowner’s association sent the Gravitts by certified mail an order to pay past due assessments combined with attorney fees and costs within 45 days.

In June 2016 a lien claim was filed against the property.

“In the event of such sale, the Clerk of this Court shall after the payment of costs, charges, and expenses of sale, credit and pay to Association the remainder of the sums received under said sale against the unpaid balance due Association,” wrote Mark Lippman, a lawyer for Clubhouse Heritage Property Owners.

In a certified letter sent March 23, 2017, Lippman wrote that the Gravitts owed the Association $2,662, which included attorney fees and costs incurred by Clubhouse as a result of the non-payment. He wrote in the letter that Clubhouse Heritage Owners’ Association instructed him to file a lien foreclosure against their property.

Lippman, of Orlando, acknowledged that the couple eventually paid the money that was due and the late fees. But he said they never paid the attorney fees of about $1,500 to $2,000.

The two sides talked about settling the case, but the Gravitts wanted Clubhouse Heritage to pay $9,000 in attorney fees they’ve racked up with Hardin.

Lippman declined to agree to that request.

And he reiterated on Friday that the couple never paid their fees on time regardless of whether they win or lose.

“They are trying to make a point that they are perfect,” Lippman said, adding that he will have eventually accumulated about $6,000 to $7,000 himself in attorney fees.

If Clubhouse wins, Lippman said the Gravitts will be required to pay his fees.