Deck brouhaha is latest headache at Woodmont

Bulls Head development has been beset in recent months by missing money, infighting and lawsuits


Article Courtesy of The Staten Island Advance

Published Sunday, June 26, 2005

When 112 homeowners in the Woodmont townhouse development in Bulls Head received violations for illegal decks, the blitz represented just the latest headache for a development beset in recent months by missing money, infighting and lawsuits.

The Woodmont experience offers a glimpse into the more complicated side of living in a community governed by a homeowners association and the homeowners themselves.

The Woodmont Homeowners Association filed a civil complaint against its former president, Patricia Messana, seeking restitution of more than $300,000 for common charges the association alleges were misappropriated under her watch. The district attorney is investigating the allegations, which Ms. Messana strongly denies.

But a struggle has also ensued over who will lead the Woodmont Homeowners Association in the wake of the scandal.

The troubles are no surprise to Councilman James Oddo (R-Mid-Island/Brooklyn), who said he's tried to negotiate with the Buildings Department and the city's Environmental Control Board to mitigate fines 112 residents recently received for illegal decks.

He's also reached out to the state attorney general's office about the missing Woodmont funds.


"We've had so many horror stories in this office," said Oddo. "I don't think people realize what they are entering into when they become part of these communities, and it's been problematic from day one."

Since the time homeowner associations (HOAs) first came into existence in the 1970s, their numbers have soared on Staten Island to more than 300, far surpassing the rest of the city. HOAs govern private communities and often times the HOA owns common property or shares private sewers and private roads. Staten Island has more private roads than the four other boroughs combined.

Jose (Joe) Valentin is a longtime Woodmont resident and community activist who was one of a few ousted Woodmont board members who filed a lawsuit earlier this month to take back the board leadership. The suit calls the current board a "rogue" organization that hijacked the HOA and illegally ousted past board members after the alleged scandal with the past president.

Newly-appointed board member Jim Wilson, who circulated petitions in the development to oust Valentin, called the lawsuit "frivolous."

"It's going to cost the community more money," said Wilson.

He's said Valentin was vice president of the board during the past president's leadership and should have known about the missing funds.


But Valentin argues that the problems only surfaced during a year when he was recovering from surgery and playing less of a role in the association. The lawsuit filed June 9 also says it was another ousted board member, Eugene Smith, a certified public accountant, who first discovered the accounting problems with the help of Valentin.

Valentin and Smith argue in the suit that the new board members are not qualified to handle the fragile finances of the association.

The suit, filed in the name of the Woodmont Homeowners Association, says the new board members are behind in association payments and one person recently filed for bankruptcy.

Wilson also recently filed for bankruptcy, public records show. He said last week that he experienced financial problems after a battle with cancer and another board member filed for bankruptcy because of a failed business.

"We are not handling the finances. We have a management company now," said Wilson. "We are just looking out for the best interests for the homeowners."

Valentin disagrees.

"They have no clue or no experience on how to run an organization," Valentin, who serves on several other community organizations, said of the new board. "We are going to court because I've got to protect the rest of the homeowners in this community," he added.

Ms. Messana, who served as the Woodmont Homeowners Association president for a decade, has denied any wrongdoing, saying she often paid cash to contractors to keep costs down and has few receipts to document that work.

"It's not missing," she said of the money.

"I would give (vendors) cash. That's my screw-up," she added.

Still, she said work got done in the development.

"If I took all that money, who paid for all those repairs?" added Ms. Messana, who was one of the 112 who received a violation for her deck.


Barbara Barbaria, secretary of the Woodmont HOA, said the deck violations are the latest affront to the community.

She said the HOA increased its monthly dues from $125 to $185 after the accounting problems were discovered. They also placed a lien on Ms. Messana's home and hired an outside company to manage its affairs.

"The bottom line is this community is hurting already from a $300,000 loss," she said recently. "Now to be hit with these additional fines is really killing us."