Court tosses foreclosure on West Boca condo

that began with 78-cent delinquency


Article Courtesy of The Sun Sentinel

By Tal Abbady
Posted July 22 2004


West Boca Cheryl McKenna was only 78 cents delinquent in her condo association fees in July 2002.

And that's all it would have taken for Camino Real Village to file a lien on her property.

Instead, the association added hundreds of dollars more in fees to the lien, and on Wednesday, the 4th District Court of Appeals in West Palm Beach reversed the foreclosure.

"Having this foreclosure hanging over my head has been a nightmare," said McKenna, who is in her 50s and works in a travel agency.

The court ruled that the association failed to follow its own bylaws when it issued a lien on McKenna's property on Aug. 29, 2002, without waiting for a 30-day grace period to expire.

At the time, she was behind 78 cents for July 2002, and $229.89 in maintenance dues for August 2002.

But, according to Wednesday's court ruling, the homeowners association didn't follow its own rules, declaring her delinquent on the $229.89 before the 30-day grace period had expired. Camino Real Village filed its claim on Aug. 29, 2002.

The association didn't properly notify McKenna that it also was demanding advance maintenance payments for the rest of 2002, the court said.

McKenna claims that the association was demanding thousands of dollars, including legal fees and late charges. She refused to pay, and says that foreclosure proceedings were started without her knowledge.

It wouldn't have been unprecedented for the association to file a lien for as little as 78 cents, according to Jan Bergemann, president of the statewide homeowners group Cyber Citizens for Justice.

"Seventy-eight cents is not even the record," he said; homeowner associations have filed liens for less. "Foreclosure liens are used as a profitable weapon. You're not going to tell me an association is going to go broke over 78 cents."

McKenna concedes she struggled to keep up with the monthly payments in the community where she has lived for 12 years and raised her 21-year-old son as a single mother. Shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks, she lost her job as a travel agent and floundered financially as she attempted to find work and start her own business.

In the year after Sept. 11, she racked up about $5,500 in late fees, and says the association filed a lien then as well. But she pre-empted further action by paying what she owed.

Robert Blake, president of the association, said board officials tried to work out an arrangement with McKenna, but declined to give details.

"Are you kidding? A lot of effort went into it," he said of the attempts to strike a deal. "She owed thousands of dollars."

David A. Core, attorney for the association, could not be reached for comment despite attempts by phone.

Now McKenna's case goes back to Circuit Court Judge John D. Wessel for a new hearing.

But her troubles aren't over.

When she was on the verge of losing her two-bedroom condominium to foreclosure, a firm called Real Estate Depot entered the picture, offering to save her home for a fee.

She thought she was borrowing money to avoid foreclosure, but ended up signing away ownership of her condo. Now, McKenna said, Real Estate Depot is demanding she pay to get the deed back.

She's still living in her condo with her son.

McKenna hopes Wednesday's ruling will void her transaction with Real Estate Depot, which she says was made under duress.

She also is suing Real Estate Depot, claiming it took her deed illegally.

Real Estate Depot and its representative, Alan Klasfeld, could not be reached for comment, despite attempts by phone.

Attorney Yale Mannof, who filed the suit, said companies such as Real Estate Depot prey on vulnerable homeowners desperate to thwart foreclosure proceedings against them.

"They came to her at the 11th hour and presented her with a gang of papers to sign," Mannof said.

When she received the offer of help from Real Estate Depot, "I was at my wits end," McKenna recalled. "All I knew is I didn't want to lose my home. They told me `You'll be able to stay in your house. We'll help you.'"

"I thought they'd just show up at the sale to represent me and put up some money so I wouldn't lose my house. I had no idea they were going to record a deed and put my home in their name," she said.

"She had to make a deal with the devil in order to save her house," said Richard Glenn, her foreclosure attorney.

"If I had had the money I might have paid it," McKenna said of the fines that sparked her ordeal. "It's incredibly stressful to think you're going to lose your home."

Even more so, Glenn said, when it's for a pittance.

"Maybe this will force the homeowners association to sit up and take notice of the fact that they have to follow their own rules," he said.

McKenna v. Camino Real Village Association, Inc., 

No. 4D03-4786 (Fla.App. 07/21/2004)

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