Residents Vote Out Top Board Officials
Article Courtesy of TBO.com Brandon
VALRICO - Residents of the deed-restricted Lithia Ridge subdivision tossed out their homeowners board president and vice president last week, using a state recall provision enacted Oct. 1.
Homeowners who collected ballots to recall four of five board members said they were unhappy that the association filed foreclosure lawsuits against homeowners accused of tardy fee payments.
In a compromise reached Friday, however, two board members - David Cook and Tom Marsh - will remain on the board, said Ed Cardenas, one of four new members elected to the board with the recall ballots. He said Cook and Marsh claimed the recall committee did not have enough votes to remove them because some homeowners had withdrawn their recall ballots.
Cardenas said the board certified the recall ballots removing board President Cyndi Acosta and Vice President Ken Stewart. State rules require replacement board members to be elected with the recall ballot. The new board is to meet today to choose a president, he said.
Acosta, Stewart and Marsh did not return telephone calls to The Tampa Tribune. Cook declined to comment.
A letter sent last week to Lithia Ridge residents from the committee that organized the recall said a process server delivered ballots recalling four of five Lithia Ridge board members to the board Feb. 25 and March 4. A fifth board member elected in January was not targeted by the recall.
The board initially refused to accept 174 ballots collected, the letter says. Under the new law, such disputes can be taken to arbitration overseen by the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation.
Cardenas' wife, Mary, said the recall committee has no animosity toward the board.
"These four individuals are our neighbors who have worked hard volunteering their time on the board,'' she said. "We believe, however, that their decisions regarding ... foreclosures do not reflect the wishes of the neighborhood.''
Under state rules, residents had to collect one more than 50 percent of homeowner votes in the 309-home subdivision to remove a board member.
Mary Cardenas said foreclosure lawsuits filed last year against two families who attempted to pay late were the primary catalyst for the recall. The homeowners have been billed for thousands of dollars in attorney fees.
Residents asked the old board several times to reconsider foreclosing on the homes of people who didn't pay their $161 annual fee on time, Mary Cardenas said.
"We've never used foreclosure to get homeowners fees paid, particularly when the homeowners were willing to pay it,'' she said.
A letter the board sent recently to residents says the association took "more than reasonable steps'' to collect money owed before pursuing legal action.
Homeowner Joyce Rasin said she tried to pay last year's fee after receiving a late notice, but the board initiated foreclosure proceedings. She said the board rejected this year's and last year's payment, demanding she and her husband pay $2,500 in legal fees billed last year. Court-ordered mediation March 2 did not resolve the issue, she said.
Jan Bergemann of St. Augustine, president of Cyber Citizens for Justice, which has been pressing the Legislature for more protections for homeowners in deed-restricted developments, said he knew of two Florida subdivisions - in Sanford and Boynton Beach - to use the new recall provisions to oust their boards.
Susan Harnden, chief attorney overseeing homeowner recall disputes for the state, said she has received seven petitions for arbitration over recalls since Oct. 1, mostly from South Florida.
One recall was upheld, two were denied and the others are pending, she said. Recall efforts that go undisputed are not tracked, she said.
Reasons for dissatisfaction with homeowners boards vary, Bergemann said. Some residents of the 900-home Copper Ridge subdivision in Valrico recently launched a recall effort after the homeowners board there took out a $140,000 loan to replace a fence without putting the issue to a vote of members at large.
Copper Ridge resident Shaun Goeckner said Wednesday about 300 votes have been collected and the recall committee is evaluating whether to continue.
"Ninety-nine percent of these recalls come about because the boards are unwilling to listen to what the homeowners want them to do,'' Bergemann said.
He said recall procedures were streamlined last year to address cases like a 2001 ouster in Orlando that has racked up $200,000 in legal expenses to homeowners. He said annual fees are meant to pay for upkeep and improvement of common areas, but some associations are forking over huge sums for legal costs.
Foreclosure suits over delinquent fees are a frequent complaint, Bergemann said. He said he favors limiting foreclosures over unpaid homeowner fees, but not prohibiting them.
"I hate deadbeats,'' he said. "But people can get sick, or the father can lose a job. ... It should be discussed and talked about and not just people losing their homes.''
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