Groups maintain community standards
Homeowners associations can be powerful keepers of the rules
By Earl Daniels
Times-Union business writer
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.
|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
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
for Village Green.
-- Bruce Lipsky/Staff
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
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
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.
each neighborhood. The goal of an association
is to protect property values.
|But the reach of
many associations extends further than grass height restrictions and fencing
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
Here are some common things covenants
Vehicles must be parked in the garage, not
in the driveway.
Garbage cans must be concealed on non-trash
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.
"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.
Overdue association fees are a problem
at Lantana Lakes.
"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."
|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
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
"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
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.
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
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.
"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."
"I have not found covenants of restrictions
to be deal breakers," said Clark LaBland, a Realtor at Watson Realty Co.
on the Northside.
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.
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
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.
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
|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