Resident battles Bellefonte homeowners association over records


Article Courtesy of The St. Petersburg Times

By D'Ann White

Published November 14, 2009

BRANDON — This time, it's a resident who says the homeowners association isn't following the rules.

And Bellefonte resident Nick Durham said he is prepared to spend hours in a hot garage perusing reams of files to ensure his HOA complies with Florida statutes.

Durham has been in an ongoing battle with the HOA of Bellefonte, an upscale 21-property subdivision off Lumsden Road, claiming it is not abiding by state regulations regarding record keeping, among other matters.

He sued the association but lost the lawsuit in August 2008 when the court determined that the information Durham requested from the HOA was unduly burdensome. Information he requested included: records dealing with competitive bids on maintenance projects, architectural review committee meeting minutes, disclosure of conflicts of interest, street lighting contracts and deed restriction enforcement records.

Because HOA attorney Dan Pilka did not agree to have the case heard by a particular mediator, the courts denied the HOA the right to collect attorney's fees from Durham. Pilka appealed that judgment in circuit court.

"Because he (Durham) is such a complainer, the other 20 home­owners shouldn't have to pay the attorney's fees," said Pilka, a Brandon lawyer. Pilka declined to say how much the attorney's fees were, but an affidavit Pilka filed in court claimed his fees were more than $10,000.

Last week, the court denied Pilka's request to collect attorney's fees. Durham responded by filing paperwork with the court to collect attorney's fees he may be entitled to from the HOA.

Durham said the HOA is unnecessarily spending time and money on a frivolous judgment against him when it should be concentrating on putting its records in order.

Durham, an information technology consultant, said he knew little about HOA laws when he was elected vice president of the Bellefonte association in 2006. But Durham, who describes himself as a by-the-book kind of guy, promptly began researching statutes.

"I found out a lot of things we're doing wrong and abridging the rights of the homeowners in the process," Durham said. "I told myself we need to clean this up."

Instead of getting cooperation, however, he said he was discouraged from following the rules. He said he resigned from the board in January 2007.

"I couldn't be a part of a group that didn't operate within the law," Durham said. "I decided to clean up the HOA from the outside."

He requested meeting minutes and financial records, sending certified letters to the board demanding it turn over the information or face $50-a-day fines as permitted by Florida statutes.

Among his requests were records on the construction of the subdivision's gate in 1998, which he discovered was partially built on private property. Durham also wanted to know how residents were able to erect sheds that did not meet county code.

When the HOA didn't respond to all requests, he took the case to mediation in December 2007.

"I offered to settle several times," he said. "I was entitled to $4,000 (in fines). I would have settled for $2,000. When we didn't get anywhere with mediation, I filed a court action in small claims court."

Durham said he doesn't believe the HOA is trying to hide criminal actions.

"For some reason, this group of individuals doesn't want full transparency," Durham said. "I don't think they're stealing money or anything. They just think they're above the law."

Nonsense, Pilka said.

"This is a small association, and they are doing a very good job but still have an unhappy homeowner," Pilka said. "The judge found that what the statute required was overly burdensome. It's difficult following all the rules exactly, and the statutes change every year. … This association is doing the best job it can."

Concerned HOA members appealed to the state Legislature to pass a law last year giving residents access to homeowners association records for eight hours a month.

Late last month, Durham finally got the access he wanted. He spent two nights, four hours at a time, in the garage of the HOA president, scanning 800 pages of documents.

"I haven't had time to review everything, but I may have evidence of insurance malfeasance and the hiring of unlicensed contractors," he said. "I plan to keep on top of them until they're doing everything correctly."


Court documents show that it was the failure of attorney Daniel Pilka to follow Florida law -- exactly FS 720.311 -- that was the reason for the courts denying attorney's fees. But, it's always easy to blame others for their own fault. I think the court documents are speaking for itself!