Van ban, even in garage, is extreme

Article Courtesy of The Herald Tribune

By Tom Lyons
Published October 8, 2005


Gene and Micki Evans don't want to move, because they love their home and their Palmer Ranch neighborhood.

They think they have good neighbors. They think they are good neighbors.

But, like so many who live in deed-restricted developments, they were shocked to find themselves at odds over a homeowners association bylaw.

They are not convinced that the rule exists, actually, though they have read and reread the Vineyards of Silver Oak bylaws and the violation letter from the association's lawyer, Dan Lobeck.

I'm not sure, either. But Lobeck, who represents many such associations of homeowners and condos, says he is sure.

The dispute started when an association representative told the couple that Gene could not park his work van in the driveway of their home.

At first, the couple thought that was a mistake, because neighbors park other vans in many driveways every night, and even at curbside. Though the van in question is a company vehicle that Gene Evans uses for his job installing cabinets, it looks new and has no commercial logo or lettering except for a magnetic sign that he removes before coming home.

OK, he forgot once, his wife says, and left the sign on for about 20 minutes.

But an association representative told them that it is a commercial van, sign or no sign. Its main use is commercial, so that is that. And besides, one side of the van does not have windows, a sure tip-off that it is commercial, the Evanses were told.

So the couple gave in. Gene hated to lose the storage space in his garage, but he started faithfully parking inside.

End of dispute? No. In the meantime, the board had talked to the association's lawyer, Lobeck. President Al Gryczka told me this week that he and other members were surprised when Lobeck told them that parking the van in the garage would not do.

Why not?

Well, read the bylaws, Lobeck told me. They say no overnight parking of commercial vans is allowed "within the association property." That means anywhere in the neighborhood, and the rules don't say "except in garages." They don't say the van has to be visible. And they don't say someone has to object to the van being in the garage.

So the board informed the couple that the van had to go. And Gryczka told me on Wednesday that he doesn't want to change that rule, because the next person might have an uglier vehicle, and neighbors would see it at times even if it was kept in a garage.

"This is an upscale neighborhood," Gryczka explained.

Upscale might not be the only adjective that would apply, was my thought. And Micki Evans asked me not to quote her two-word description of the president. Let's just say she thought he was needlessly officious and smirky when he delivered the bad news.

And it really is bad news to the Evanses.

"My husband needs that van," Micki Evans told me.

They say they are not as well off as some residents there, and though a lawyer told them a court fight could go either way, they don't dare risk it and perhaps end up paying both sides' legal fees.

Besides, they don't want their neighbors to have to pay the legal bill either, Micki Evans told me.

Gryczka expressed no sympathy. Isn't it just common sense, he asked me, to be familiar with the bylaws before you buy a home?

Sure, and that is true no matter how many people don't do it. But I pointed out to Gryczka that he had just admitted that even he and his board had thought parking in the garage was allowed, so how the heck was it the Evanses' fault if they thought the same?

As to common sense, that is exactly what would seem to support the assumption that you can park whatever you want inside your own garage.

Maybe residents there are just lucky the rules don't ban nudity on association property. Lobeck might tell them they have to wear clothes in the shower.


An Opinion By Jan Bergemann

We read these kind of "funny" interpretations all the time. This is exactly what gives homeowners' associations a bad name -- not the growing number of "unhappy" homeowners, who consider these type of interpretations harassment.


This president and his statements are a clear example for what is wrong in our communities: The total lack of common sense!  The president clearly uses the opinion of the attorney as a shield to cover up his own prejudiced opinion. He should never forget: The attorney is a hired gun, paid to write these interpretations and letters. He makes good money by doing so. One should never forget that peaceful communities, where everybody gets along fine, would be the financial downfall of these attorneys.


It is the fiduciary duty of the board members to avoid these kind of confrontations that could turn into very costly litigation. And the homeowners will pay in the end -- Win or Lose!


Certain board members, community managers and specialized attorneys are always claiming that they do what they do for the welfare of the homeowners and the protection of the property values. 


Are they trying to tell us that a van -- with no commercial signs -- parked in the garage, invisible from the outside, will decrease the neighbors property values?


We always laugh when association boards start telling people what colors they can use for the curtains in the windows. This is much worse!


And it seems that all these "legal eagles" conveniently forget one important thing: FS 720 was changed in 2004 and there is mandatory mediation required before taking a homeowner to court for disputes about deed-restrictions. And I doubt that a mediator will have the same lack of common sense as we see displayed here. And what happened to the mandatory hearing in front of an impartial committee -- some call it grievance committee --according to FS 720.305?


Getting back to property values: Lots of stupid law suits decrease the property values much more than a van -- commercial or not -- that is parked in the garage -- invisible from the outside!


We all want peaceful communities -- nice places to come home to! 

Not places run by attorneys and over-eager board members!