Attorney general aids unhappy homeowners

His office jumps in on a squabble between a woman sensitive

to chemicals and a homeowner's association.


Article Courtesy of  The St. Petersburg Times

Published February 15, 2005

HUDSON - Lots of people have disputes with their neighborhood homeowner's association. But when Raymond and Rosemarie Saccardi decided to take on the Preserve at Fairway Oaks Homeowner's Association, they scored a powerful ally: Florida Attorney General Charlie Crist.

Getting help from the state's highest prosecutor is fairly unusual, yet so is Rosemarie's problem. She's acutely sensitive to low levels of things most people don't think twice about: carpet, perfumes, dust, upholstered furniture, unfiltered water, cleaning supplies - and pesticides and insecticides.

So before the retirees purchased their home on Greyhawk Court in May 2001, they made sure the lawn care and pest control companies tending to the neighborhood would give them a warning before spraying.

Things went smoothly until mid December 2003.

The board of directors for the homeowner's association chose a new company to maintain the Preserve's lawns. The Saccardis expected the same accommodations they received before. They didn't get their wish.

So fearful was Rosemarie of chemicals - exposure could bring disabling physical and neurological symptoms, her doctor said - that she moved that month to the couple's condo in Palm Coast. She hasn't lived among the manicured lawns and lookalike beige stucco homes of the Preserve since.

Last week, at the Saccardis' request, Crist's office sued the Preserve at Fairway Oaks Homeowner's Association and Qualified Property Management, which manages the community. The lawsuit contends the couple's civil rights were violated because the organizations failed to accommodate Rosemarie's disability.

"It was their (the homeowner's association and management company's) impression that they were in compliance, but they haven't been," said James D. Young, the assistant attorney general in Jacksonville who filed the suit. "No one has come forward as of today and said we will honor their reasonable accommodation."

Rosemarie's condition, officially known as "multiple chemical sensitivity," is controversial. The federal government recognizes the diagnosis as a handicap. But the American Medical Association doesn't support it as a clinical syndrome because of a lack of evidence linking the reported symptoms to such exposure.

Still, the Saccardis contend Rosemarie can't be near insecticides and pesticides without adversely affecting her health. When they learned that the board of directors for the homeowner's association had switched lawn care providers, the couple sought specific assurances.

They requested that chemicals be applied to all lawns in the community during a one- or two-day period on even-numbered months. They also asked for an annual schedule of all lawn applications and a 48-hour notice before any spraying and hand weeding of the rock and tree beds surrounding their home.

For several months, they exchanged letters and phone calls with the community's management team and lawn care company. The companies indicated a willingness to accommodate the couple, but the terms were never to the Saccardis' satisfaction.

The suit states the homeowner's association has continued to require Rosemarie to provide updated medical information and more documentation to prove her disability, denying her accommodation in the meantime.

That's not how a lawyer for the homeowner's association views the situation.

"We made an attempt to resolve this matter, and apparently there's no meeting of the minds," Dennis Hudson Jr., a lawyer with the Tampa firm that represents the homeowner's association, told the Pasco Times.

Fed up, the Saccardis filed a complaint with the Florida Commission on Human Relations last year. In August, the commission found reasonable cause to think a discriminatory housing practice had occurred.

Under the Florida Fair Housing Act, a person can make a case of discrimination by showing the following: the person is disabled; the housing provider knows of the disability; accommodation is necessary to give the disabled person an equal opportunity to enjoy his home; and his request is denied.

The commission's finding opened the door for the Saccardis to seek representation from the Attorney General's Office, Young said.

The Saccardis, who did not want to comment for this story, won't have to pay for the attorney general's services. Their suit seeks monetary damages, attorney's fees and costs, and a return to the days when they didn't have to tangle with pesky pesticides.