Groups maintain community standards
(Courtesy Florida Times-Union - Business 9-3-2001 )

This article reflects exactly what the industry wants the consumer to believe. All is great in homeowners' associations, people are happy and the property values are going up!
In reality and daily life this is by far not the case. Law-suits between boards and unhappy homeowners are piling up, many  families move out of associations and will never move into one again. 
Despite the fact that Florida has Statutes FS 720.301-312 to regulate these HOAs, the industry is often unwilling to obey by these Statutes and many homeowners are afraid to go after the deep-pocket industry, rightfully so. There are many examples where law-suits have cost homeowners more than $ 100.000 and many years of frustration. And violations are being defended with homeowners' dues, so no real risk for the people in charge. Management companies, only barely supervised by the DBPR, have embezzled huge amounts of HOA funds, houses have been foreclosed upon for small amounts of unpaid dues and many homeowners are complaining about unreasonable boards, selective enforcement of deed-restrictions and the list goes on. And the fairy tale about raising property values is just that. There are many examples here in Northeast Florida where the property values outside of associations doubled and tripled while the ones inside stayed more or less the same. 
Disclosure, as required by FS 689.26, is often lacking and not true, and Financial Reports, as required by FS 689.265. Our legislators are obviously still unwilling to protect their constituents from the abuse of the industry.
But more and more homeowners living in associations all over the nation are waking up. Groups are forming to defend the homeowners against the abuse like here in Florida CCFJ.Inc.
The creation of homeowners' associations may have been a great idea on paper, but since humans are involved, it was doomed to fail. Don't forget, communism sounded great reading the "Red Bible", but it obviously failed as well. As long as our legislators are unwilling to add enforcement to all the nicely written Statutes and leaving their constituents in the hands of abusive boards and the industry, this concept is doomed to fail as well. And I guess we were all happy when communism turned out to be a failure. But that still doesn't mean we have to have dictatorships in our great country! It is about time that this big problem of today's society is being seen from both sides!
Jan Bergemann
President CCFJ, Inc.

            Groups maintain community standards
             Homeowners associations can be powerful keepers of the rules 

By Earl Daniels 
Times-Union business writer 
All of the mailboxes in the Queen's Harbour Yacht and Country Club have to be the same color, placed on the same kind of stand and treated for termites.

With the exception of termite protection, the same goes for the for sale signs planted in the front yards of the community located off Atlantic Boulevard. Those neon-colored for sale signs are forbidden.

Members of the gated community's property owners association, who oversee a $2 million-a-year operating budget, make sure such cosmetic details are enforced. 

In the Lantana Lakes neighborhood on Beach Boulevard, the challenge is to somehow convince homeowners to pay their homeowners association fees.  

Terri Teal (left), Webmaster for Baypoint and treasurer 
of the Cunningham Creek Plantation homeowners 
association, helps Beck Rose create a web page 
for Village Green. 
-- Bruce Lipsky/Staff
Association members are trying to collect $30,000 in overdue association fees. For the homeowners who have not paid their dues, liens have been placed on their houses, and some face foreclosure.

At Cunningham Creek Plantation in Fruit Cove, all homeowners have paid their $200-a-year association fees. But when it is time for an association meeting, only about 80 of the community's 600 households are represented.

A.C. Parker is the president of the Ortega Forest 
homeowners association, a volunteer group that 
tends to the entrance landscaping. 
-- Emily Barnes/staff
In Ortega Forest, an established neighborhood on Jacksonville's Westside, the homeowners association has not met in five years. Of the 816 households in the quiet neighborhood, about 125 of them pay their $20-a-year voluntary association fee.

For the people who volunteer their time, operating a property owners or homeowners association is a time-consuming, frustrating and sometimes costly venture.

The associations, which are backed by Florida law, are in place to enforce a covenant of restrictions. Usually originated by developers, covenants are designed to spell out what is and is not allowed to take place in a community.

But the reach of many associations extends further than grass height restrictions and fencing preferences.

In Florida, there is a law that supports homeowners associations' enforcement of covenants. In some states, there are no laws supporting associations. Associations have the power to assess fines and even in some cases foreclose on houses when owners don't pay association fees or costs. In many cases, associations have turned business over to management companies that enforce covenant restrictions.

The only way to avoid being bound to a covenant is to stay clear of buying a house in a neighborhood with one.

In Jacksonville and in Florida, neighborhoods with covenants of restrictions are becoming as common as the number of yards with St. Augustine grass. New neighborhoods help to boost the increasing number of communities with covenants. While these rules are standard in the area, enforcement of the rules vary in 

Everyday restrictions
Here are some common things covenants can require:
  • Vehicles must be parked in the garage, not in the driveway.
  • Garbage cans must be concealed on non-trash pickup days.
  • Exterior of house must be maintained, including roof, siding and paint.
  • No inoperable vehicles or unlicensed cars in the yard or parked in front of the house.
  • Residents cannot use house to breed animals, such as chickens.
  • Residents cannot annoy neighbors with loud music, screaming or yelling.
 each neighborhood. The goal of an association is to protect property values.

"This is a business," said John O'Neil, a retired Navy officer and chairman of the Queen's Harbour Yacht and Country Club property owners association, which employs 37 people. The employees oversee the association's second-floor office space and other common areas, such as the marina, clubhouse and fitness complex.

Property and homeowners, who include Jacksonville Jaguars football players, high-ranking corporate executives, military officials and retirees, pay fees ranging from about $130 to $170 a month, depending on where their property is located.

Money matters
Overdue association fees are a problem at Lantana Lakes.

Two years ago, a management company, Marvin Real Estate in Jacksonville, was hired to handle the association's business affairs. Since that time, several houses have been foreclosed because homeowners refused to pay their $230-a-year association fee. The overdue amount is down from $47,000 when the management company took over to about $30,000.

Members of the association probably would consider the uncollected fees a minor snafu compared with the recent discovery that the developer of the community, CSEC Florida, did not deed two vacant lots in the community to the homeowners association. They wanted the lots to be owned and controlled by the association so the lots could be properly mowed and maintained.

The lots, which are owned by a local Jacksonville church, are the location of natural gas tanks that supply gas to houses in the community. 

The church had plans to use the man-made lakeside lots for weekend fishing retreats, but it has since decided not to use the property. Church officials offered to sell the property to the homeowners association, but members of the association say they cannot afford to pay the $15,000 asking price.

"It is one of the most unusual situations that I have ever come across," said Karen Floyd, who works for Marvin Real Estate.

Behind the scenes

Fed up with the web of issues and paperwork that keeps the association running, Lantana Lakes residents, like members of other neighborhoods, have turned over the management of their association to a management company. 

Floyd's company manages 21 homeowners or property owners associations in Jacksonville. There are other local companies that do similar work.

Richard Thompson, owner of Regenesis, a Portland, Ore.-based company that assists homeowners associations and is an expert in homeowners associations, said members of homeowners associations who are considering using a management company should carefully explore their options.

"Often these companies don't know any more about management than the members of the board of directors of a homeowners association," Thompson said.

He said the benefit of using a management company keeps members of the association from dealing with complex and time-consuming issues.

Associations have to deal with paperwork, including writing letters to homeowners who violate the covenant of restrictions, paying bills, dealing with vendors and filing tax returns.

Using a management company allows homeowners to avoid dealing with their neighbors, according to Bill Wiese, president of the Cunningham Creek Plantation homeowners association.

Wiese, pronounced "Weese," said management companies keep neighbors from being labeled as the "bad neighbor."


Wiese said he became active in his homeowners association to change the covenant of restrictions.

Delivering restrictions
There is a guideline for how a mailbox should be constructed at Queens Harbour Yacht & Country Club. Here are some excerpts from the guideline, which runs one page in length, that spell out the specifics.

For consistency and establishment of property values, we require all mailboxes to be built and installed according to Queen's Harbour's specifications.

Cedar post and cross arm: Wood 4 inch by 4 inch cedar, clear grade, air dried, rough. Plane rough cedar to a smooth finish. All post and cross arm edges to receive 45 degree bevel cuts. Bevels to curve and flow smoothly around corner joints and into base molding with a tight fit and no gaps.

Finish: Rough cedar, plane to smooth. Post cross arm and molding to be assembled and then sanded as a unit. Apply one coat of white primer. Finish with three coats of white gloss polyurethane enamel. All dado's to be painted black.

Copy: Address numbers to be 2-inch black vinyl, Helvetica medium style. Placement to be centered on cross arm.

Box: Box shall be aluminum construction with black enamel finish. Box shall be "Number #1" size as approved by the U.S. Postmaster General.

Installation: Post shall be 2 inches below grade, bottom of molding to touch ground at surface. Post shall be installed level and true. The bottom 22 inches of post shall be dipped in a fiberglass roofing material to retard termites and carpenter ants.

An area at least six inches outside the post should be maintained in mulch or plants to keep wire grass trimmers from ripping the wooden post. Termite protection should also be provided.

-- Source: Queens Harbour Yacht and Country Club architectural guidelines.

"Covenants create bad neighborly relationships instead of good ones," he said. "For instance, if Jane thinks Harry does not maintain his lawn according to her likes, then she calls the association and wants a violation notice sent to Harry."

"Instead of going over there and asking Harry if there is a problem or is there any way to help him, they call the association. Maybe Harry has been sick. Or maybe there is something else wrong with Harry. Many people hide behind the association."

Association action
When a property owner violates a rule in the covenant of restrictions, there is a protocol of action that comes into play. Although it may vary from one neighborhood to the next, here is the chain of events that usually takes place.

Problem: A property owner refuses to mow the lawn for a month. The yard is overgrown and has become unsightly for the neighborhood.

Action: A homeowner informs the association about the overgrown yard. A letter is written to the home owner about the problem. After three written notices, the homeowner is fined.

At any time during the process, the association's actions cease if the homeowner complies with the request. In this case, that would mean mowing the lawn.

In some neighborhood associations, a lien can be placed on a house if the association hires someone to mow the yard. If the homeowner refuses to repay the association for the work, the bill turns into a lien and foreclosure proceedings can take place.

The covenant, including the do's and don'ts of a community, can lengthy. It can address things such as prohibiting cars from being parked in the driveway, which is the case at Queens Harbor and was the case at Lantana Lakes before 67 percent of the homeowners voted to rid the covenant of that particular restriction.

Covenants are written to mirror city or county codes and sometimes are more stringent.

"I am not a fan of covenants of restrictions," Wiese said. "I even wonder if they are constitutional."

Wiese said when he bought his house in Cunningham Creek Plantation, he did not read the details of the restrictions.

The treasurer of the Cunningham Creek Plantation homeowners association, Terri Teal, said she moved into her neighborhood because she wanted rules. Some proponents of covenants also say covenants provide swifter action because usually it takes longer for city or county officials to respond to complaints.

"I read the rules, and I did not think they were outrageous," Teal said.

She said a homeowners association can avoid hiring a management company if it communicates with residents and get volunteers.

In some cases, home buyers forgo reading the specifics of the covenant before they buy, but that does not mean the restrictions do not apply.

By law, real estate agents are required to inform prospective buyers that a community has a covenant of restrictions before the house is sold.

"I have not found covenants of restrictions to be deal breakers," said Clark LaBland, a Realtor at Watson Realty Co. on the Northside.

LaBland said neighborhoods with covenants are more common on the Southside, but with 40 new subdivisions being built on the Northside, the number of covenant communities will increase.

In some older neighborhoods, such as Ortega Forest, covenants are not enforced because the homeowners association is loosely organized.

A.C. Parker, president of the Ortega Forest homeowners association and a resident for 21 years, said the sole purpose of the association is to keep the entrances neat, keep the trash picked up and circulate a once-a-year newsletter.

Parker, 75, said he hopes for the day when the association can become better organized and more active. He often can be found tending to flowers at one of the community's three entrances.

After being incorporated in 1968, the homeowners association's incorporated status was dissolved in 1977, Parker said. There are no covenant of restrictions in Ortega Forest.

He said residents want meetings, but not about matters that will protect the overall appearance of the community. 

"They want to meet about things like these young people spinning their car and truck tires in other people's lawn. That's is something for the police to handle. I told them there is really nothing we can do about that."

          -- Crista Jeremiason/Staff

This was posted on the Bulletin Board :
Re: Groups maintain community standards
Posted by: disgusted 
Posted on: 9/3/01 - 08:15 a.m.

Somebody better call the Mailbox Police. The mailbox at 13730 (on the cover of the First Business section) and the one at 1313 (on page 11) do not meet the architectural standards.

You people at Queens Harbour better get your act together -- I'll bet your property values are declining as I write this!!