WASHINGTON, D.C., February 18, 2013 ― Olde Belhaven Homeowners Association of Fairfax, Virginia, a 44-unit townhouse community, bankrupted itself in the process of a four-year battle with Sam and Maria Farran. Legal fees cost the community almost $400,000.00.
The association increased community dues by more than a factor of six, from $650.00 to about $3,500.00 per year, in an effort to cover the cost of those legal bills.
“The situation put a strain on some elderly residents living on fixed incomes and some had their health impacted” according to a former HOA Board President.
An area in the community called “the square” is now up for sale to assist in paying the association’s debt. This common area in the community was described as “the heart” of the community. Gatherings no longer take place there.
Until the square is sold, individual residents will be paying out of pocket for the plot’s water, electricity and maintenance.
The disastrous decisions of the HOA board came over a dispute about an election sign that was four inches taller than the association’s covenants allowed and that the Farrans placed in their yard in 2008.
The HOA told the Farrans to take the sign down. The Farrans cut the sign into two to comply with the standards, and then they replanted the signs in their yard.
The HOA then passed a resolution allowing the board to render fines for violating HOA guidelines. The Farrans refused to pay the fines then assessed against them claiming the Board did not have the legal right to assess fines.
In the meantime the Farrans submitted plans for a deck and a roof to the association for aesthetic and architectural approval. You guessed correctly ‒ the Board rejected the projects.
The Farrans filed a lawsuit against the HOA to look for legal confirmation of their position with respect to the fines and for baselessly rejecting their improvement projects.
A judge ruled in the Farran’s favor on the fines issue, indicating that the HOA could not claim powers that were not laid out previously in the covenants. The improvements matter was split into another lawsuit. The Farrans prevailed again; a judge ruled that the Board’s votes were improper because they came at a secret meeting and followed arbitrary standards.
According to the Community Association Institute, about twenty percent of us live in a neighborhood governed by an association. Homeowners associations across the United States, now numbering over 324,000, exist for many purposes.
The simple idea behind associations is to have a few elected community members (the Board) arrange for and carry out needed common services. Trash collection, snow removal, and common area gardening and maintenance are a few of the services most provided for by these neighborhood associations.
Many communities set up the associations to be responsible for overseeing agreed upon standards of exterior home design and the overall appearance of the neighborhood. Do you want your neighbor to paint his home yellow and polka-dot purple?
Homeowners typically pay monthly or quarterly dues and the individuals on the association’s boards apply the collected funds for the common good of the community, as agreed and set out in the charter or other formative documents setting up the association and its rights, powers and responsibilities.
These dues are for the good of the entire community; they are not paid so Board members can exhibit their perceived muscles.
Homeowner feuds with their associations could occupy volumes and many could serve as scripts for comedy movies. My wife and I planted a few colorful and “fun” daisy spin-wheels in front of our walkway a few years ago and we got a notice to take them down.
On another occasion we were told to remove a portable basketball hoop because it could be seen from the roadway, over our fence. Aaaaagh….
What happened in Fairfax, Virginia must rank at the top of all of the stories, and unfortunately it resulted in real and unnecessary damage to the entire community.
As a practicing attorney, I believe my obligations are to counsel my clients on the legal, the practical, and the financial reality of all different courses of action. I hesitate to question the strategy of the HOA’s attorneys.
I therefore assume they told the HOA to quit many times. I assume that both practical and financial advice was given to those making the decisions for the HOA, and that the advice was ignored.
Proving a “point” has limits when it severely adversely affects innocent others. In a phrase, what were they thinking?
The HOA here became responsible for the Farran’s legal bills. The HOA financially devastated the very community they agreed to serve for what appears to be the need to prove a point.
The “power” that some people perceive they have is only second in bizarre and sad reality to the actions they take in their efforts to use that power.
Because you have the “right” to do something does not always mean you should.
Paul A. Samakow is an attorney licensed in Maryland and Virginia, and has been practicing since 1980. He represents injury victims and routinely battles insurance companies and big businesses that will not accept full responsibility for the harms and losses they cause. He can be reached at any time by calling 1-866-SAMAKOW (1-866-726-2569), via email, or through his website. He is also available to speak to your group on numerous legal topics. Paul is the featured legal analyst on the Washington Times Radio, in Washington, D.C., on the Andy Parks show, the featured legal analyst for America’s Radio News Network, heard in 165 markets nationwide, and he is a columnist on the Washington Times Communities.
His book The 8 Critical Things Your Auto Accident Attorney Won’t Tell You is free to Maryland and Virginia residents and can be obtained by ordering it on his website; others can obtain it on Amazon.
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