Neighbors Square Off Over Homeowner Association Vote

Article Courtesy of The Highlands Today

By Dan  Fearson

Published April 3, 2008

AVON PARK Neighbors are at odds in the Knoll-Century Hill manufactured home community.
"People don't talk to each other like they use to," said resident Ida Foley, who has lived in the subdivision that sits just west of Lake Anoka, off of U.S. 27, since 1995. "People are no longer friends. You're either for it or against it."

What's creating the rift are claims that the homeowner's association illegally changed its bylaws to allow it to potentially purchase a clubhouse, while charging residents an assessment fee for it.

The clubhouse, which sits in the front of the subdivision, has been a fixture in the community for years. Residents have enjoyed holiday meals in its dining area inside and can play shuffleboard outside. But the clubhouse is privately owned by a citizen who decided recently that he wanted to sell it to the homeowner's association.

At the beginning of May, residents will have to pay a $1,000 fee that will be placed in an escrow account for the clubhouse's potential purchase.
Foley, and a number of her neighbors, are upset because they believed that the clubhouse was already owned by the homeowner's association when they purchased their lots.

"I can't afford to pay (the fee)," said Foley. "I don't use (the clubhouse). I'll never use it."
Under Florida law, the homeowner's association has the option to place liens on Foley's property if she doesn't pay the assessment fee, which could lead to a foreclosure on her home.
"I have been threatened," said Foley. "I have been told by a director (with the homeowner's association) that they were going to foreclose on my home if I didn't pay the fee."

"I'm too old for this," said Foley, a widowed senior. "I feel like I can't breath in here."

"We haven't been telling anyone anything," said Knoll-Century Hill homeowner's association president Thomas Wenner on Wednesday, directing questions to board's attorney, Andrew Jackson, of Sebring.

"I don't like the way things are run here," said resident Harold Williams, who owns two lots, and we'll have to pay more than $2,000 in fees. "When I moved here, I was told that (the clubhouse) was owned by the association."

"I don't even use the clubhouse," said Williams. "Now, I'm going to have to go to the bank and take out a loan to help pay for it."

There are several residents who are in favor of the clubhouse's purchase, including Bill Ingalls.
"I have no problem paying the fee," said Ingalls. "I enjoy the clubhouse. I have cooked Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners there. It's a good place for people to socialize."

Ingalls did say that he can see why some of his neighbors were upset.
"When I moved here I was told that (the clubhouse) had a private owner," said Ingalls. "I think there were a number of people who were misinformed and told that the community owned it. I'd be upset too if I were told that."

"But the bottom line is that I've talked to Realtors who've said that our property value would go down if we didn't have a clubhouse," said Ingalls.

Lawsuit Filed
Aaron Seward, a resident in Knoll-Century Hill, filed a lawsuit Monday against the homeowner's association, claiming that it has held illegal and improper voting proxies to allow directors to amend the association's bylaws in order to purchase the clubhouse.

The suit says that in April 2007, the association board held a member vote, allowing the association the authority to pass and enforce a special assessment to purchase property from private parties.

Seward claims in the suit that members did not receive adequate notice that the vote was going to take place, that they did not receive a copy of the proposed amendment, and that the vote was taken by a show of hands without being recorded.

After the vote, the suit states that the directors held another vote in December 2007, potentially allowing the association to purchase the clubhouse, owned by Everett Ohrt.

Seward's suit claims that there were similar voting irregularities in the December vote.

The suit goes on to claim that the board of directors recognized that the April 2007 vote was illegal, so they held the same vote on the issue last month. In a notice regarding the revote, directors stated:
"In a rush to vote on the clubhouse last spring, we did not allow time for the membership to adequately prepare them to vote on the bylaws. We are reaffirming our vote to be sure the approval of the new bylaws will withstand any legal challenge."

The suit says that during last month's vote, directors kept a list of numbers corresponding to resident votes, which deprived residents of a secret ballot and intimidated members. Seward claimed that residents' lot numbers had to be written on the ballots.

Seward is seeking a declaratory judgment from the court. Several residents who were against the clubhouse purchase said on Wednesday said that they were going to wait for a judgement in Seward's suit before paying the assesment fee.

"(The lawsuit) is a serious matter," said association lawyer Jackson.
Knoll-Century Hill is a 55-and-over subdivision.