Article and Video Courtesy of
MY FOX Channel 13 -- TAMPA
Published September 9, 2009
- Just how far can a homeowner's association go to get what is owed to
them? A Tampa attorney is hoping to get a judge to decide that Tuesday
morning in a Hillsborough County courtroom.
Sarah -- whom we're only indentifying by
her first name -- lives in the Riverwalk Townhomes in
Riverview. She fell behind on her association dues more than
a year ago.
Sarah says she had problems
financially. "Then it just snowballed. You
try to catch up on one thing and you fall behind on
On the 10th of August, she got a
letter from her association board, saying they were going to
cut off her water on the 17th. And that's exactly what they
did -- not just turning off the water, but cutting the pipe.
stressful and it's humiliating. Overwhelming, because you don't know how
to explain it to your child," Sarah told FOX 13.
has a 10-year-old disabled child. She hasn't had water now for three
weeks. She keeps gallons of water to cook with. She has filled up her
bathtub with water to flush the toilet with and brush her teeth.
She heats up water on the stove and puts it in a
camping shower, which she now bathes with.
The Riverwalk Townhouses share one water
meter. Each owner pays a monthly fee of $275 to the association.
That pays for water, cable, maintenance, and upkeep on common areas.
The association recently passed an amendment
which says they have the right to go on someone's property and cut
their water or cable if they don't pay their dues.
Nicki Fernandez, a real estate lawyer,
disagrees. She is now representing Sarah.
"There's a deliberate action by the homeowner's
association that's not only illegal, but they're trespassing on her
property," Fernandez stated. "They're taking rights away from
her that are under the constitution and they're also violating Florida
Fernandez says, under Florida statutes, an
association can suspend use of amenities like a community pool or workout
room. They can also suspend their voting rights for community issues. But
Fernandez says the law does not say water -- a necessity -- can be cut.
She believes the association feels they can do it
because water is part of the monthly fees.
"They're bundling up the common elements and
amenities in the community with specific property rights of the owner, so
because they are paying the bill, that's why I believe they think they can
cut off the water."
At least two other neighbors also had it cut off.
One moved out; the other is also living without water.
David Walkowiak, a board-certified real estate
attorney, believes the board overstepped their bounds.
"The ultimate question for the courts is
whether water is an amenity or a necessity," he said, adding,
"If you don't have water, you can't use the restroom. You can't take
a shower. I don't know how you can live in a home without water."
But Walkowiak admits homeowner's associations are in
a difficult situation. In this tough economy, more people are not paying
Sarah said she would pay if she could. She feels
she's being looked at like a deadbeat homeowner.
"They don't have a clue what's going on in
someone else's life. It's easy to judge because you're not in that