Memorial Northwest couple sue homeowners association

Husband, wife challenge alleged violations, seek monetary damages


Article Courtesy of The Houston Chronicle


Published July 12, 2006

Memorial Northwest homeowner Robin Lent said she is striking back against her neighborhood homeowners association, which filed a deed restriction lawsuit against her in April.

Robin Lent and her husband, William, filed a counter lawsuit Friday in Harris County's 152nd District Court. The Lents are challenging laws and deed restriction violations cited by the Memorial Northwest Association in the original lawsuit, and seeking monetary damages.

The Memorial Northwest HOA's lawsuit petition claims the Lents violated neighborhood deed restrictions by operating a landscaping business out of their home on Theiss Mail Route, and not maintaining their yard, which houses a hummingbird/butterfly garden.

David Kahne, the Lents' attorney, said the Lents are taking an uncommon approach by fighting back. One reason many people do not challenge homeowners associations in court is because the Texas Property Code allows homeowners associations to collect a $200-a-day fine for each day of the alleged deed restriction violation.

The Memorial Northwest Homeowner's Association lawsuit seeks to impose those fines on the Lents.

If a homeowner is taken to court over a violation, that fine could grow into the thousands quickly, Kahne said. The Lents' lawsuit seeks to find that fine in violation of the Texas Constitution.

"I am just trying to get clarification of the law," Robin said. "It is not balanced or weighted in the homeowner's favor. It is a losing battle for a homeowner to fight a lawsuit (filed by a homeowners association) when faced with the threat of foreclosure and $200-a-day fines.

"People just give up and that is exactly what the homeowners association wants them to do."

The association is also seeking a temporary injunction to prevent Robin Lent from operating the business, Butterfly Gardens by Robyn, and to redesign and landscape the front yard.

Robin Lent said she closed down that business in April, and also made several attempts to work out differences with the homeowners association over the appearance of her yard. The more she did, the more they asked her to do, she said.

Kahne said the Lents' lawsuit seeks to clarify that Robin Lent did not violate the subdivision's deed restrictions simply by listing her home phone and fax numbers on business cards, the Internet and business registration forms. Also, it is not against deed restrictions to use a home phone, fax or address to conduct business.

"Many people use their homes for this purpose," Kahne said. "There are no customers, employees or mass-produced products involved here. I think there is a lot of support in the neighborhood for her position."

The Lents' lawsuit also claims that allegations that their yard violates deed restrictions that ban nuisances, garbage and refuse disposal and cutting weeds and drainage are baseless.

Also, the subdivision's deed restrictions do not require approval of landscaping plans.

"We are setting up for a legislative battle," Kahne said. "We want to increase legal protection for homeowners."