learns cost of fighting homeowners group
A former board member of Plantation in Carrollwood owes $7,000.
His is a cautionary tale about legal challenges.
Article Courtesy of the St. Petersburg Times
|By TIM GRANT
Posted November 24, 2002
CARROLLWOOD -- When three candidates ran for seats on the homeowners board in Plantation of Carrollwood last year promising to fire the longtime property manager, they were supported by former board member David Cutting.
When all three candidates lost their elections, Cutting was the driving force behind helping them start a renegade community newsletter called the Real Thing, which criticized Plantation's management.
Cutting resigned his board seat in September 2001 and filed a lawsuit against the homeowners association for damages, which included losing time from work because of stress-related illnesses he experienced while serving on the board.
"I don't regret filing the lawsuit," Cutting said.
A Hillsborough County judge dismissed his $5,000 lawsuit against Plantation this year. In a separate court action, Cutting was ordered in July to pay nearly $7,000 in fees to the lawyer who represented Plantation.
Cutting, who lives at 11111 Summer Drive, recently returned from the Philippines with a new bride and a newborn daughter. He gave his first court deposition on Tuesday to determine his ability to pay the lawyer's fees.
"I will not willfully disobey the judge's order, but I'll have to look at my finances to see what I can do," said Cutting, who runs a home-based printing business. "Of course, my baby gets fed first."
His case illustrates the potential consequences of challenging a homeowners association board in court.
While Cutting's home and the equipment he uses to make a living are protected, the court could force him to liquidate investments and sell other assets to satisfy the $6,444 he owes Tampa lawyer Francis E. Friscia.
Meanwhile, the cash register continues to ring.
Cutting's unpaid balance keeps growing at 9 percent annual interest. He also is required to pay the cost of the deposition he gave this week, and he'll owe for any additional time Friscia spends writing letters or petitioning the court for any reason related to this case.
"You can sue a homeowners association, but you should get an attorney and get legal advice," said Tom Jones, Plantation's property manager. "It's serious business and should not be done lightly."
Cutting sued Plantation for $5,000 in small claims court. Among other things, his lawsuit claimed the association owed him money for decreasing his property values when the property manager sold the community's reclinata palm trees and improperly dumped 55 gallon drums in the lakes.
He wanted reimbursement for being overcharged for copies of official records and for the cost of holding neighborhood meetings at his home when the community clubhouse wasn't available.
Cutting also wanted to be reimbursed $2,000 for a special monthly assessment for maintaining and repairing common parking areas in his village. He said he has a private two-car driveway and his home should not have been charged that assessment.
Jones said residents in Cutting's community, Bellefield Village, were assessed for the common parking lots more than 14 years ago. He said that assessment no longer exists and Cutting was not even a resident at the time.
"He paid nothing toward that assessment," Jones said. "He wants to make it an issue to capitalize on it."
Cutting said he believes Jones, Plantation's manager, is acting out a vendetta by requiring him to pay the association's lawyer.