Condo lawyer mum on flower spat

Article Courtesy of The Herald-Tribune

By Tom Lyons   

Published November 18, 2015


Driving down Rum Cay Circle, I could see that condo homes all look very much alike.

The small front yards are not spectacularly landscaped, but they are neat and uniform. Order is the theme. Each home has exactly one tree out front, usually a smallish, well-pruned one cut to the same cone-shape as the others.

But wait. What's that I see?

There's a problem in front of Janet Morgan's home. See her tree?

It's fine, actually. The tree itself is OK.

But look beneath it.

Better call the condo board!

You might have missed it if you're your eye wasn't caught by the flash of colors, but once you see what's there you can't help but be aware that Morgan, a retired high school teacher, has done something there that is, well, different. And pretty.

But no need to alert board members. They are on it. They have sent Morgan a series of threatening letters — the last one from a lawyer — demanding action. They tell her she is in violation of the rules of Center Gate Estates Condominium Association, Section 1. The alleged violation:

She planted flowers.

In a six-foot wide semi-circle beneath the small tree's branches, Morgan planted begonias and geraniums and, I don't know, some other little flower plants. None are more than a foot tall. If you notice them at all, you can't possibly think they look anything but nice.

And, just to be clear, this is not one of those cases where someone is letting the weeds grow and calling it a natural Florida yard, one that clashes with the neatly kept places all around. Not at all. Morgan is a neat and orderly person. Her small flower garden is pristine. It also is easily the prettiest spot on the block. If you notice it there, tucked under the tree.

As usual when I occasionally write about home association or condo boards, I think this one has gone nuts. And as far as I can tell, it has done so without even the usual excuse such boards use, which is, if I may paraphrase: “We have rules here, and all must be obeyed absolutely or our neighborhood could collapse into anarchy. Even the smallest and most benign and lovely thing that does not comply must be removed.”

Of course, that is the apparent cause of action, and the letter sent to Morgan sites a specific association rule — Section X (a) that says the patch of yard in front of her one-story condo building is subject to certain restrictions. They are spelled out in detail, and clearly say what must not be planted there.

But did the board members and their lawyer really read that rule?

It says no owner may plant or re-plant “trees, bushes or sod” without permission from the board. No mention is made of flowers.

The flowers are way too small to be considered bushes, it seems to me. Bushes might block the view and so might be considered a problem, because someone might hide there or, um, something.

But little flowers? Tiny plants a few inches of the ground? What possible reason could there be to want to ban those?

I'm asking you, reader, because I have asked board members and the board's lawyer and gotten nothing back by way of explanation. The lawyer, Michelle Stellaci, said she was not authorized to talk to me, and the several board members I called either did not respond or declined to discuss it.

So I am discussing it without them. I hereby advise them to come to their senses and read their own rule and realize they have gone beyond what it bans. They went beyond being extreme sticklers and crossed over into being idiotic enforcers of requirements that don't actually exist.

And they are not doing it for some apparently well-intentioned good cause. They are trying to stomp on a nice woman's pretty flower garden.

By the way, the rules also also allow things to be planted with the board's permission. Morgan says she asked for that and was turned down.

Morgan is the kind of person, by the way, who in retirement still works with kids. She mentors a girl who lives in Newtown and just used her credit card to buy the girl some bedroom furniture. Money well spent, she says, unlike whatever she might waste on a lawyer if she has to get one to defend her flowers.

She adamantly does not want to do that. She's hoping some goodwill or good sense comes into play instead.

But she's nervous now that she is past the deadline the board gave her to comply by digging up the garden.

“Every time I hear a sound outside I think they are coming to dig up the flowers,” she said.