COURTESY of the TAMPA TRIBUNE
May 17, 2001
Most homeowners associations deal with
fences and flowers, not felony death threats.
Nine residents recently received letters that didn't come from the Welcome Wagon - the language more fitting ``The Sopranos'' than suburbia.
``Where I come from people like you get their throats slit or go for a swim,'' the residents were told in the letters, which also included obscenities and lewd comments. ``You never know when something may come through your window because you are walking on dangerous territory.''
Their apparent sin? Wanting to recall the homeowners association's board of directors.
``Our homes cost between $100,000 and $300,000, and they are behaving like we live in a trailer park,'' Darrel Day said of the threat he received. ``It is beyond my comprehension how adults in an upscale neighborhood could behave like this.''
The residents are taking the threats seriously, and so is the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office.
``This is an active investigation. It is a felony to mail a written threat,'' said Lt. Rod Reder, a sheriff's spokesman. ``Our lab is pro cessing the letters, and we've turned the case over to detectives.''
Reder said it is rare for community disputes to escalate to this point.
``It is unusual to have multiple victims, usually it is one-on-one,'' he said.
Those who received the letters have their suspicions, but Reder said there are no suspects yet.
The letters are the latest episode in an association dispute that has been simmering since the developer turned the association over to the homeowners in 1999.
``Everyone has their own management style and belief on what homeowners associations should be,'' Day said. ``Most communities find a way to work through those differences. We didn't.''
Arguments at board meetings spilled over to shouting matches in the parking lot. The meetings became so boisterous that the association was thrown out of a church where it used to meet. An off-duty deputy stood guard at the last monthly meeting.
The core issues seemed to be how vigorously to enforce deed restrictions and how much to spend on maintenance and upkeep.
John Miller, the board president, declined to discuss the dispute or the threats except to issue a written statement backing the sheriff's investigation:
``The Board of Directors supports this investigation and hopes that the person responsible will be found.''
Day is a former board president who resigned along with three other members in August, saying the hassle wasn't worth it for a voluntary, unpaid position. Now, Day and others are backing a petition drive to force a recall vote of Miller and his supporters on the board.
Tom Leavitt, a former board member and part of the recall drive, was another of those receiving a threat.
``I bought in this community because of its aesthetic values and the class it had. In 1997, it was a premium place. It was gorgeous,'' he said. ``These threats have put a sour tone on that. It is pitting neighbor against neighbor.
``You shouldn't have to worry about leaving your wife alone, or fear retaliation when you go for a walk or a bike ride. This is real. I feel I might become a prisoner in my own development.''
Day thinks the situation will ease when three new board members are elected in December.
``There will be a shift in personalities, and I hope that is enough,'' he said.
Leavitt isn't so sure.
``Does it go on? Does it escalate?'' he said. ``Maybe that's when you put up the `for sale' sign.''