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East County Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2010 5 years ago

Ranch HOA upholds yard fine

by: Pam Eubanks Senior Editor

LAKEWOOD RANCH — Summerfield resident Joani Ellis is determined not to change a thing in her tidy front yard — even though it may cost her thousands of dollars.

Fighting an HOA fine that surfaced in 2006 and was dormant until late 2009, Ellis appeared before her HOA’s compliance committee Feb. 8 to ask them to dismiss the $1,600 fine against her on the basis of selective enforcement and the concepts of statute of limitations and laches.

But within days, Ellis learned the committee has ruled she must comply or face the $1,600 fine plus a $50 administrative fee. If she doesn’t fix violation soon, she’ll also have to pay an extra $50 per day until it is corrected. The cap is $20,000 according to the Summerfield/Riverwalk bylaws and covenants, Ellis said.

“It’s been kind of strange,” Ellis said, adding she’s had more than 20 Summerfield residents contact her since The East County Observer published a story about her situation Feb. 11. “People have knocked on my door and sent me e-mails and called me, stating they are behind me 100% and the rules do need to change.”

Ellis said she plans to appeal the board’s decision and also apply to the modifications committee for approval of her landscaping. She’s also hoping to rally the rule revision committee to reexamine the neighborhood’s deed restrictions, which she says are out-of-date and too rigid.

Additionally, Ellis has turned her attention toward the work of Mark Benson, the former owner of a Fort Myers-based property management company spearheading efforts to increase the oversight of homeowners associations.

“That’s been my campaign for the last several years — to bring the community association statute in line with what is needed by the members,” Benson said. “This would include the HOAs in the same category as condominiums as far as oversight by the state. The intent is to protect the interest of community association members from special interests and draconian administration.”

To that end, Benson has crafted a bill called the Community Association Protection Act. The act spells out protections for members of homeowners associations, including a cap on the amount they can be fined, as well as protections from unfair rules and more accountability for the actions of board members.

Benson said his background in the property management business made him keenly aware of the needs of homeowners and the challenges some residents are facing with their HOAs.

“We hear all the time about how abusive and suppressive the boards directors are,” Benson said. “This is supposed to provide accountability to all those involved in the administration of community associations.”

He’s hoping Sen. Mike Bennett, whose district covers the East County, or one of the other state legislators, will sponsor the act before the legislative session starts in April.

So far, he hasn’t had any bites. And although it’s a bit late in the process to get a sponsor, Benson said he is hopeful the Community Associations Protection Act ultimately will be heard by the legislature this year.

For information on Benson’s bill, visit and click on “documents.”

Contact Pam Eubanks at [email protected].

For previous coverage, click here.

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