Years after hurricanes, legal storm batters Sandalwood


Article Courtesy of The Palm Beach Post


Published March 24, 2008


PALM BEACH GARDENS Uniform rows of tidy brick townhouses belie the mess inside Sandalwood.

A former homeowners association president wanted restraining orders against the entire community. Some people declared health problems from dealing with one another. And one woman who photographed neighbors giving her the finger was later arrested while demanding to see records.

It all began with roofs.

They started off cedar shake and wound up orange metal.

The board of directors for Sandalwood's homeowners association amended its covenants in November 2004 - after the one-two hurricane punch - to make roof repair and replacement a community expense.

A catastrophe clause also allowed them to relocate all air-conditioners from the roofs to the ground if more than 51 percent of units were damaged.

But according to two lawsuits against the homeowners association, that amendment is illegal because only the developer can change the covenants without owners' approval.

Some roofs weren't damaged and remained under warranty when residents had to pay for new ones. And with the changes, the roofs look different than what the community agreed upon. Some of them even leaked, owners say. But those who didn't pay up were slapped with liens.

Guy Shir, an attorney representing several homeowners, called the liens "retaliation" and illegal in that they were executed before assessments were late. The residents want a judge to declare the amendment invalid and to award legal fees, at the least.

"We have a situation where they usurped Florida law and their own documents," Shir said. He represents three residents in two consolidated civil suits.

One woman, a past homeowners association president, alleges she had no opportunity to vote on the amendment that changed the color of her roof.

She claims contractors failed to properly repair her unit, which flooded and then fell to mold.

A second lawsuit on behalf of two men alleges the association unlawfully increased owners' proportions of common expenses. Both men had roofs under warranty that needed no repairs, the suit says.

Suzanne Archer, girlfriend of one of the men and mother of the other, called police, saying the workers on her boyfriend's roof did not have permission to be there.

But police said it was a civil matter, and the former attorney for the homeowners association came to the scene.

Archer and the attorney, V. Claire Wyant-Cortez, never hit it off.

The two women fought over viewing homeowners association records - until the day Archer showed up without an appointment and refused to leave. Wyant-Cortez had her arrested on trespassing charges.

Archer lodged complaints with the Florida Bar, which Wyant-Cortez dismissed in a letter to the Bar. She described how Archer disrupted meetings and was removed from Wyant-Cortez's office and a courtroom.

But when another resident complained to the Bar, Wyant-Cortez addressed the contentious roof changes.

"Regardless of the firm's advice, the Board of Directors instructed this firm to record the (amendment)," she wrote to the Bar. "I personally requested that the Board of Directors obtain the necessary mortgagee information and written consents numerous times."

Her firm finally had permission to tabulate the residents' vote on the amendment in June 2005, seven months after the amendment had been recorded.

One former neighbor said the internal strife was part of the reason he and his family moved away.

Settled in North Carolina for more than two years now, Todd Curphey still keeps a 3-inch binder on Sandalwood - of "all the happy stuff," as he puts it.

"It was polarized when we moved there in 2000 - even before all the hurricane stuff and the insurance stuff and the roof stuff started happening," Curphey said.

He said it wasn't just people on the board but the rabble-rousers who made life uncomfortable.

Archer prides herself being one of those.

The former homeowners association president, Debbie Chase, wrote in an e-mail to Wyant-Cortez that a man from the roofing company had heart problems because of Archer and another resident, Paula Magnuson. Since then, Magnuson has become homeowners association president herself.

"My question and hope is that we can do some type of restraining order or protection order for ALL Murton Roofing employees against the residents," Chase's e-mail said.

Archer has made 28 public information requests with Palm Beach Gardens for documents on contractors who worked at Sandalwood.

City attorney Christine Tatum wrote in a memo to the mayor and council two months ago that the 62 blanket permits issued to Sandalwood contractors more than three years ago were legal and that any problems are between the homeowners board and the contractors.

Meanwhile, depositions have just begun.