Homeowners want to oust board

Article Courtesy of The Galveston Daily News
June 5, 2003
By Ted Streuli

KEMAH — Perhaps the only mail less welcome than notice of an IRS audit is a letter from a homeowners’ association.

Sandra Bernal got one too many. Her frustrations with the Kemah Oaks Maintenance Association reached such a crest that her family’s dream home is now for sale.

“It was really a hard decision,” Bernal said. “We like living in Kemah.”

Texas law gives homeowner associations such far-reaching latitude that the 78th Legislature considered House and Senate versions of a bill to shift some of the power back to the homeowners.

“Associations know the law does not provide a disincentive from doing things inappropriately,” said Rob Edwards, a legislative aide to Sen. Jon Lindsey R-Fort Worth, who authored the Senate bill. “They know there’s no penalty.”
Attempting a coup

In Kemah Oaks, homeowners who don’t like the way their association is being run plan to do something about it with an election Saturday.

Two of the three director’s positions are up for grabs, and the contest drew both incumbents and challengers with vastly different views.

Kim Monroe and Kathy Bradley say there should be more access to board business, more input and that enforcement of deed restrictions should be relaxed.

“We want more input from the people who are affected,” said Bailey. “It’s their subdivision. They should have a say.”

Monroe said she was concerned about people such as Bernal selling their homes.

“It’s out of control,” Monroe said. “We’re hoping this election brings some cohesiveness back to our neighborhood. We want to have a homeowners’ association run by homeowners with the homeowners’ best interests at heart.”

Monroe said she had no personal quarrels with directors.

“It’s not personal for me,” she said. “There are very strong differences of opinion between the homeowners and the board. If you’re on the board, you’re not supposed to be doing what you want — you’re supposed to be doing what the neighborhood wants.”
Standing their ground

Joe Betters, who has served on the board for about three years and is running for another term, said only a few homeowners were unhappy. He said those people were simply unwilling to follow the rules.

“There are people who want to run for our board who don’t believe in deed restrictions,” Betters said. “The board has not acted in the dictatorship-type fashion it’s been accused of. It’s just held up the deed restrictions that were passed on to us from previous boards.”

Some residents contend that while the deed restrictions may have remained the same, the approach to enforcing them has changed dramatically.

“The deed restrictions were written so poorly that the board didn’t even understand them,” said Terry Van Allen, who bought his Kemah Oaks house about three years ago. “The deed restrictions are really stacked against the homeowner.

Angered homeowners raise two points of contention: Deed restrictions are enforced with too much vigor, and the developer is still guaranteed one of three board positions.
Root of the problem

Directors counter that they’re merely doing the job they were elected to do and that it’s both right and customary for the developer to retain a board seat until all his lots are sold.

Van Allen said he was threatened with litigation and fines when he refused to tear out shrubs he planted with the permission of previous directors. He said the current directors threatened fines of $200 per day plus attorney fees if he failed to remove the plants. When Van Allen said he was willing to fight the directive in court, the matter was dropped.

“It’s just the utmost arrogance the board has had that’s been most disgusting,” Van Allen said.

Van Allen also took issue with the board’s decision to install three video surveillance cameras at the community pool. Although he agreed that the cameras ended a streak of vandalism, Van Allen said the board shouldn’t have spent the money without homeowner input.

“They never told anybody; they just did it,” Van Allen said. “It was heavy handed and arrogant.”
Forget front porch lemonade

Bernal said she received a letter when she put a chair on her front porch so an adult could supervise her children while they played outside.

“They sent us a letter saying the porch wasn’t a storage area,” Bernal said. “They send us letters for the stupidest things.”

Bernal’s biggest conflict was over a professionally built fence that she was told to tear down.

“Betters said there weren’t really any guidelines and that it was just up to him and his opinion,” Bernal said.

Bernal said the fence was allowed to stay after she discussed her case with the association’s attorney.

She also got a letter when her boat remained in her driveway for one week after her husband was suddenly called out of town on business. Bernal said she didn’t know how to trailer the boat to their storage facility.

“Sure enough, we got a letter,” Bernal said. “I feel like we’re constantly being watched. When we first moved out here it wasn’t like that.”

Bernal had trouble with a basketball net, too. She said that when her children play basketball, the net occasionally becomes partially unhooked from the hoop.

“Every time the net hangs down we get a letter within days,” Bernal said.

She also got a letter that told her she had too many trees in her front yard and that she would be required to remove one.
Sticking to the rules

Betters said deed restrictions keep property values moving up, but only if they’re enforced.

“My goal was to get the property values up and they’ve gone up,” Betters said. “I’m proud of that. If you move into a deed-restricted neighborhood, you need to be aware of the deed restrictions. If you don’t, you’re going to be cited.”

Betters said that violating deed restrictions was like driving faster than the posted speed limit — if one chooses to break the rules, he said, one should expect consequences.

“People think they can get away without cutting their lawns,” Betters said. “Some of them have gone three weeks. They get a letter from the property management company; that’s their job and our job is to make sure they do their job.”

Betters said that directors have frequently made exceptions to the rules because of extenuating circumstances.

“We won’t take anybody’s home,” Betters said.
Seven lots, one seat

Deed restrictions guarantee that the developer will have one of the three director’s seats until all the lots have been sold. Of the 238 lots in the subdivision, Kemah Oaks, Ltd. still owns seven. Mike Taylor represents the developers on the board, but Bradley has collected more than 180 signatures from the 229 existing homeowners to change the rules and oust Taylor.

Bradley said she would present the petition to the board after Saturday’s election, then ask the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to certify the amendment. It would then be filed with the county’s real property records.

“All we had to say was ‘remove the developer’, and they stuck their hand out to sign it,” Bradley said.

She said 75 percent of the homeowners were needed to sign for the revision to pass. That would equal 179 signatures, she said.

“They can’t do it,” said Taylor. “They can’t change it until all the lots are sold.”

But Taylor said that could happen soon; he said there’s an offer pending on the seven remaining lots.

“When the lots are gone, I’ll be gone,” Taylor said. “I’m not there to cause controversy. I’m there to make sure the developer’s rights are upheld and that’s it.”

Taylor said those who are unhappy represent only a small fraction of the community and that the current board has done a good job.

“There are people who live in the community who think it’s a big fuss over nothing,” Taylor said. “You’ve got less than 5 percent of the whole neighborhood mad, and they want to get a whole new board and change everything.”

Taylor said that if a new board relaxed enforcement it could lead to property value declines that would in turn lead to litigation against the directors for failing to uphold the deed restrictions.

“Where do you draw that line once you start breaking deed restrictions?” Taylor said.
But it’s a nice place to live

Homeowners will decide which point of view they prefer when they cast their votes Saturday. But both sides like their neighborhood.

“Kemah Oaks is a great place to live,” said Betters. “The reason it is, is that there’s a strong association. We’re not bullies.”

Bernal expects to be living with her husband and three children in League City’s South Shore Lakes subdivision next month.

“My husband loves this area,” she said. “We first looked here 10 years ago. We wanted to live in Kemah. I hope for everyone else’s sake it gets better.”