HOA spat gets nasty as meeting door slammed on owner

Article Courtesy of The Tampa Tribune

By Mike Salinero

Published February 17, 2015

TAMPA — A long-simmering feud between two Brandon residents and their homeowners association board escalated into a door-shoving melee Thursday night. 

No one was hurt or charged in the dustup at a meeting of the Sterling Ranch Master Association board in Brandon. A Hillsborough County Sheriff’s deputy, who was called about the fracas, described it in his report as a “disturbance” and wrote that no further action was necessary.

The incident started when Sterling Ranch residents Randy Mitchell and Paula Walz tried to gain entry to an homeowners association board meeting at a nearby assisted living home. Walz, 62, has been battling the board for a year and a half over a requirement that homeowners mow common areas between their rear property lines and retention ponds.

The board, which was meeting with the association’s attorney Thursday, closed the meeting to other residents because potential lawsuits were being discussed.

Walz said she objected to closing the meeting and noted the presence of the subdivision’s property manager, John Calcagni. She cited a state law governing homeowner associations that prohibits anyone other than board members or the board’s attorney from attending such closed meetings.

Walz said she was standing in the doorway of the meeting room, lodging her protest, as the board members told her to leave.

“I was at the threshold and I said, ‘If he’s allowed to stay here, then I should be allowed to stay,’” Walz said, referring to Calcagni. “Mr. Calcagni must have gotten upset about it.” 

Walz said Calcagni rose from his chair and shoved the door closed. She said she shoved back, but the property manager prevailed, and the door shut on her foot. Mitchell said he witnessed the incident.

“He takes his body and pushes his full body weight against her foot,” Mitchell said.

According to the sheriff’s report, Walz told a dispatcher the door shut on her foot but she declined an offer to call emergency medical services.

Calcagni did not respond to several phone calls. The board’s attorney, Francis Friscia, also could not be reached for comment. 

Board member Brian Knarich said Friday he had been advised by his attorney not to comment. Asked if he was referring to attorney Friscia, Knarich repeated, “At the advice of my counsel, no comment.”

Walz and Mitchell have long been irritants to the homeowners association board. For months they have complained to county code enforcement about unpermitted roofing and electrical work at the Sterling Ranch pool. 

But the longest-standing dispute has been over the association’s requirement that homeowners mow the common areas between their properties and retention ponds. Last summer, Walz quit mowing the common area adjoining her property and, when it became overgrown, she filed a complaint with Hillsborough County code enforcement.

The code enforcement case came before a special magistrate Friday. Walz was there to testify, but no one from the homeowners association showed up. Instead, the association asked for a continuance, which Magistrate Roger Verszyla granted. 

But Verszyla and code inspector Frank Ferrera assured Walz that if the homeowners association did not mow the area, the matter would come back before the magistrate, who could then levy a fine. Code enforcement could also get a standing compliance order, Ferrera said, requiring the association to appear before the magistrate every time the common area wasn’t mowed.

“I guess there was some kind of agreement between the homeowners association and the residents that border this property,” Ferrera said. “Well, (the residents) don’t own it. So our ordinance makes the property owner responsible for maintaining the property.”

Walz said she worried that the homeowners association would keep asking for continuances, and she would have to keep coming back to the magistrate meetings. Verszyla said that wouldn’t be the case.

“Believe me, I’ll remember,” Verszyla said. “I’m like an elephant.” 

Homeowner group fights resident over mowing