Board lawsuit: Man's actions are harassing

A neighborhood group says the resident's involvement

is merely retaliation in a dispute over fees for late dues.

Article Courtesy of The St. Petersburg Times

Published February 17, 2006

VALRICO - Lewis Laricchia, a retired union negotiator, has made it his mission to keep the Brentwood Hills Homeowners Association board members on their toes.

He has e-mailed them so much with questions about code enforcement and association policies that copies of the messages pile up 3 inches high.

And the association wasn't the only one that heard from him. He called county code enforcement to report a temporary banner at the community's entrance.

He reported volunteers to the U.S. Postal Service for putting newsletters on residents' mailboxes. He posted notices on the neighborhood bulletin board, and he reported that handicap parking and a trash bin were not up to code.

In January, the association filed a lawsuit in Hillsborough Circuit Court seeking an injunction to require Laricchia "to cease his harassing and retaliatory conduct."

The association sued Laricchia, 56, after five months of "inordinate and unusual involvement in the Association," the lawsuit alleges. The association wants him to pay attorneys fees for the lawsuit and for dealing with him.

It all began last June with late dues.

Laricchia said he had a problem paying association fees that swelled to $1,300. He said he never knew he had to pay the minimal $35 to $45 late fee, which started adding up.

The invoices for the charges were sent to incorrect addresses, Laricchia said. When he learned of them, they were already high, he said.

Laricchia started asking about the fees, but the questions caused delays, which brought more late fees. Then, he said, the association's attorney John Conley charged him $500 to answer questions about the fees. He said he didn't know until later he was being charged for the attorney's time.

Conley did not return two telephone messages for comment.

Laricchia said Conley told him to pay the fees, and promised to waive them later because of Laricchia's medical conditions.

Laricchia has had a four-way heart bypass operation, diabetes and circulation problems, he said. He said he also cares for his mother, who has Alzheimer's disease.

Laricchia paid the fees, but never got the waiver to get the money back.

After that, Laricchia took up an interest in the homeowners association, according to the lawsuit.

Conley, the association attorney, suggested that he get involved, Laricchia said in an interview.

Laricchia said he was genuinely interested in the association work. The lawsuit alleges his involvement was retaliatory.

That's when his five-month campaign began, in the form of questions and whistle-blowing. Laricchia also decided he wanted a seat on the association's board of directors.

December elections rolled around, but Laricchia's name wasn't on the ballot.

The association had used a nominating committee to select candidates, and Laricchia wasn't nominated.

The existing board elected themselves for another term because scarce attendance didn't muster enough residents to form a quorum, Laricchia said.

The association says it held the election properly. The lack of attendance at the election might mean residents are pleased with the way business is run, Conley wrote. In an e-mail to Laricchia, Conley wrote: "It is irrational to conclude that the board should repeatedly spend the membership's money for meaningless attempts at acquiring a quorum. This is illogical and ludicrous."

He continued:

"You should also not be surprised if the board members do not fill vacancies with persons with an obviously disruptive agenda as no one wants to, or is obligated to, embrace volunteerism of troublemakers."

Laricchia said the association's allegations of "harassing, retaliatory, nuisance and extortionistic activities" are unfounded. His attempts to gain a position on the board are purely "to do good for the association," he said.

"I used to negotiate agreements for railroads back in Long Island, New York," said Laricchia, who is now on disability. "I love to help people. Whenever somebody had a problem, I was there to help them, and that's why I wanted to run for this association."

The association will meet again Thursday, and if it musters a quorum of residents, Laricchia plans to nominate himself for election to the board.

Resident Feud May Become Test Case