Homeowners battle association for records


Article Courtesy of The Tampa Tribune

By Laura Kinsler

August 30, 2009

SAN ANTONIO - Getting the records is just the first step.

When homeowners suspect their neighborhood association of misusing their money, they ask to see the financial records. By law, homeowners associations must make their records available to all paying members.

It has never been that simple at Tampa Bay Golf & Country Club, so some homeowners are suing to get the records.

Anita Stuckly, a retired accountant, sued the community's master association in January after failed attempts to inspect financial ledgers, contracts and audits dating to 2000. She offered to go to mediation, a required step before homeowners can sue associations.

Association President "Rick Feather said there's nothing to mediate. The records don't exist," Stuckly said.

Feather was appointed to the association board in 2007 and told the Tribune he doesn't know whether previous audits were conducted, though they were required by law.

"I can't speak to what went on before my involvement with the association," Feather said.

The association paid Stuckly $1,360 to settle the case. She's planning another lawsuit, this time for records explaining why former manager Jonnie Tyler was paid $30,000 for pool maintenance and $86,000 for operations in 2007 - on top of his management fee - before the association replaced him with an out-of-state management company.

Her attorney sent an offer to mediate the case this week.

Domenic Gualtieri took the association to small claims court over its failure to release the 2008 audit. Florida law requires homeowners associations that collect more than $400,000 a year to release an audit within the first four months of the year. Gualtieri sued on July 13 when the association still had not released the audit.

He received a copy of the audit in August but refused to drop his complaint, saying the association should pay for his court costs.

Homeowners associations can be penalized up to $500 per offense for failing to turn documents over to their members.

Barbara Stage, Stuckly's attorney, said homeowners have a right to see every financial record of their association, especially when the association is controlled by a developer.

"Basically, it's their money," she said. "Every dime the association spends comes straight out of their pockets, and it's not being spent for their benefit."

Feather, who stepped down from the association board in July, said the developer and its management companies have made every effort to comply with the written requests.

"If we had a record, anybody who requested it and was a member was welcome to inspect it," he said. "A lot of the people who have filed this litigation have been at our office doing just that."

Stuckly and Gualtieri are following the example set by homeowners in Cory Lake Isles, a gated community in New Tampa where residents sued and won the right to inspect their developer's financial records. After inspecting the records, 20 homeowners filed a lawsuit accusing the developer of diverting more than $500,000 in homeowner assessments for his private use and to subsidize his other businesses.

That case is making its way through Hillsborough County courts.

Gualtieri and five other homeowners sued the association in January for failing to respond provide them with copies of the contract between the association and Tampa Bay Golf & Country Club Recreation, which owns the community's clubhouse.

Association members pay $1.74 million a year to access the swimming pool and other amenities in the country club. Feather said the relationship between the association and the country club is "clearly spelled out" in the association's master declarations and bylaws.

"I've never seen any other document," he said.

The case is scheduled to go to mediation Sept. 11.