Judge scolds homeowners' association
Sunday, April 14, 2002

By Travis Baker  -  Sun Stuff

Island Lake - If you can't abide by your bylaws, change them, a superior court judge told a Silverdale area home owners association Thursday. 

Judge Terry McCluskey's ruling culminates six years of bad blood between the Silverhill at Island Lake Homeowners Association and one of its members, Anita Haley. 

The dispute sometimes reached surprising levels of pettiness, symbolized by a small chicken wire fence Haley and her husband put up and refused association demands that they take down. 

It also led Haley to buy a projector normally used for Christmas messages and shine accusations about the board on the front of her Island Lake Road home many nights the past year. 

The association won a ban on both the fence and the projections Thursday, but it could be a costly victory. 

It could be on the hook for thousands of dollars of the Haleys' attorneys fees. The association's entire annual budget is between $3,000 and $4,000. 

The decision sends a sobering message to the dozens of volunteer homeowners associations around Kitsap County. The volunteer boards meet in homes to administer playgrounds and other common areas and to deal with compliance with their development's covenants. 

At Silverhill, they were called covenants, conditions and restriction, or CC&Rs. 

"The board needs to get its act together and follow the CC&Rs," McCluskey said, "or amend them. Don't remain in violation of your own rules." 

The succession of board members had held meetings irregularly, given insufficient notice of them, skipped required audits and denied Haley access to board records unjustly, McCluskey ruled. The board also unfairly refused to accept proxy votes that might have put Haley on the board, he said. 

His rulings, ironically, gave Haley and the board just about all each side asked for. 

But he also gave the board a scolding. And he then said that because Haley had had to sue to get the board to do what it was obligated to do, he will hear arguments about whether the board should pay Haley's legal costs. 

Roy Rainey, who represents her, guessed that his fees in the case would be between $12,000 and $15,000, about triple the association's annual budget. 

Presumably, the board also is paying for its own lawyer, John Mitchell. 

Mitchell said his charges aren't that high. He will oppose the awarding of attorney's fees to Haley when he and Rainey argue the issue. 

McCluskey said he can grant Rainey anywhere from nothing to 100 percent of what he asks for. 

He ordered the Haleys to remove the chicken wire fence they put up years ago to keep their neighbors' dogs out of their yard. It came down Thursday, Haley said. 

She also agreed to quit projecting the accusatory messages on the front of her house, as McCluskey ordered. Mitchell argued that most associations like Silverhill's, including PeeWees and even the county bar association, probably have slipshod record keeping that leads to problems. 

"A box of records is passed to the new officers, who a year later gratefully pass it on to the next ones," he said. 

McCluskey agreed that most don't have anyone trained in the requirements of the position. 

"But I must emphasize that when you become an officer in a corporation of this nature, you are taking on a position of trust and responsibility, and it's a big one."