LAKEWOOD RANCH — Months after she began receiving fines for having too many yard decorations, Summerfield resident Joani Ellis is continuing her fight against the Summerfield/Riverwalk Village Association.
Ellis, who already owed $1,600 and has been accumulating a $50 per day fine since February, is planning to sue the Summerfield/Riverwalk Village Association for selective enforcement and violating the statute of limitations on her property, which has been decorated virtually the same for more than a decade.
Although the lawsuit is not yet filed, Ellis is working with her attorney to make sure all details are accurate and to gather more information.
Ellis made a substantial records request to her HOA and has made two trips to Lakewood Ranch Town Hall to view and obtain copies of documents of interest. Ellis said not all the information she requested was provided for viewing on May 19 when she was first scheduled to view requested items. A follow-up viewing session June 3 still lacked much of the information in question, she said.
As provided in state statutes, Ellis has billed her HOA $550, which includes about $250 in late charges, for failing to provide access to all information requested, including, but not limited to all records concerning herself or her property, correspondence between members of the SRVA board and any party about herself, home, violations or other matter and records of fines collected regarding the “decorative item rule” in the last seven years.
Ellis also believes the fine against her is invalid because the SRVA board has not appointed its compliance committee, which is responsible for enforcing restrictions. In Ellis’ review, she did not find any record of the board appointing compliance committee members until May 27, 2010.
In response to a media inquiry by The East County Observer, SRVA’s attorney Stephen Thompson wrote that SRVA is “strictly complying” with records policies contained in Florida Statute 720 and that Ellis has never been denied access to the association’s records.
“It is my legal opinion that the Summerfield/Riverwalk Village Association has strictly complied with the records requirements in making the association’s records available for inspection and copying by members,” Thompson said. “The association has no obligation to provide specific records, only to provide access to records. There are certain records that are protected, and those types of records are also outline in the statutory provision.”
Ellis still believes SRVA has not complied with her request fully because she said many of the items she requested — but did not view — exist, including her membership to Lakewood Ranch’s dog park and the modifications requests of neighbors.
“I know not everything was there because I was looking for my own (information) and neighbors’ modifications,” Ellis said. “They continue to say they did provide everything.”
Ellis also said many of the records she viewed contained evidence of selective enforcement, adding that she compared properties cited for the decorative item rule and to a list of hundreds of properties that she has found that are in violation. Out of 48 properties she compared, not one was on the list SRVA provided, she said.
“I gave up after 48,” she said.
Although many of the documents Ellis requested to view were for her lawsuit, other items were requested because of concerns raised by neighbors, including one that Community Association Manager Cynthia Wells did not place home rental fees in an escrow account in a timely manner and did not pay back rental deposits in a timely manner as according to SRVA rental bulletin No. 6. Based on evidence she found to support the claim, Ellis said she plans to add breach of fiduciary duties to her suit.
“I’m going to continue to be an advocate for some of the people around here that still feel they have no voice,” Ellis said.
Contact Pam Eubanks at [email protected].
Among Ellis’ yard decoration violations was a pair of metal poodles set in her front flowerbed.
But about a month ago, one of the poodles went missing.
Knowing she and her neighbors have been given to pranks before, Ellis checked with her neighbors. But alas, the poodle never turned up. On May 20, she filed a report with the sheriff’s office, reporting the poodle stolen.
“It’s nowhere to be found,” Ellis said.
The pair of poodles was a gift to Ellis when she fostered her 300th poodle for a poodle rescue organization. The pieces have sentimental, not monetary value.
“I’d like to get it back if anybody sees it,” Ellis said. “It doesn’t bite.”