Home fees swell to cover cost of storm


Article Courtesy of the Orlando Sentinel

Published 09-20-2004
By Beth Kassab


Call it the price of suburban bliss.

Parks and tennis courts, streets lined with lush greenery and an extra hand with hurricane debris pickup -- it all comes at a cost that could mean Charley and Frances could eat into homeowners' wallets even further.

Community associations are considering fee increases for 2005 to cover everything from expected higher insurance premiums to replacing downed trees and ripped-up sod.

In Hunter's Creek, which has Orange County's largest homeowners' association, residents will likely see fees go up by more than $220 per family to raise the $1.6 million needed to relandscape the community and pay for other cleanup costs, said general manager John Rasnic.

The proposed increase of about $18.66 per month will be presented at a meeting Monday night and would last for 2005 only.

But community leaders acknowledge the additional cost might be hard for some to take.

With the increase, annual fees could range from $444 to $2,160, depending on the neighborhood.

After the recent hurricanes struck Florida, association President Dave Shirk said he thinks homeowners will understand the need for fee increases.

"It's small relative to the cost of deductibles, but it's still significant for anyone trying to make ends meet," Shirk said.

Rasnic said the community that spans about 7 square miles and includes a population of more than 25,000 lost 1,200 trees and suffered severe damage to its irrigation system.

Newlywed Rhonda Mercer wants Hunter's Creek to maintain its well-groomed image, but the timing couldn't be worse. Married just four months, she and her husband moved into their home in the Timucua Village neighborhood in Hunter's Creek just weeks before Charley hit.

They had shingles torn off their roof and can't afford the $4,000 insurance deductible it will take to fix it, especially after just paying closing costs on their new home.

The increase will come on top of the $150 homeowner's fees they already owe on a quarterly basis.

"Nothing's helping us out right now," Mercer said.

"We can't afford it."

Other subdivisions in Waterford Lakes in eastern Orange County and near Windermere in the west are also considering higher fees related, in part, to potential increases in insurance costs because of the storms.

"We don't know what kind of impact that will have," said Dori Sutter, who manages several neighborhoods near Windermere and in Waterford Lakes for Boyle Management.

"We anticipate that might be part of it."

As much as the bills might hurt, many associations don't have a choice because of strict governing documents that dictate how the neighborhood is supposed to look, Shirk said.

And that's what draws many of the residents.

"That's the price you pay to live here," said Mary Martin, who lives in Hunter's Creek.

"You want it to be beautiful, you want it to be manicured, you pay the fee."