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East County Wednesday, Mar. 31, 2010 5 years ago

SRVA upholds fine

by: Pam Eubanks Senior Editor

SUMMERFIELD — Summerfield resident Joani Ellis is standing by her decision to keep her yard decorations as they are, even as fines against her accrue daily. So far she owes about $4,000.

But Ellis isn’t the only one standing firm.

Despite her request for a waiver, during a homeowner’s association meeting March 25, the Summerfield/Riverwalk Village Association board upheld a Compliance Committee decision to enforce the fines against Ellis, without discussion, and to continue fining her $50 a day until she removes excess items.

Ellis now will take her battle to court, maintaining her position that the HOA is selectively enforcing the rules and has passed the statute of limitations for imposing certain deed restrictions against her property, which has looked the same for a decade.

“The SRVA board continues to selectively enforce the rules and disregard state statues and business law,” Ellis said after the meeting. “Because of tonight’s unfortunate decision, I plan to continue to defend my rights as necessary, and I will use any means at my disposal to seek appropriate recompense and compensation.”

Ellis said she expects to file the lawsuit sometime this week. Although the move may end up forcing SRVA to spend thousands of dollars in legal fees, Ellis said it’s an action that must be taken on behalf of homeowners.

“They need to abide by state law,” Ellis said.

Ellis also indicated she has been approached by about a dozen other Summerfield residents who have asked her to start a class-action lawsuit. The notion is something she is considering, but Ellis said she has no plans to act on it at this time.

Ellis’ attorney Daniel Lobeck, whose firm normally represents homeowners associations, said Ellis’ case is defensible.

“Ms. Ellis’ case is as good as I’ve ever seen,” Lobeck said. “She has open and shut defenses against enforcement by the association — those are the statute of limitations, selective enforcement and ambiguity and unreasonableness of the restrictions.”

Lobeck also said he tells his HOA clients they must look beyond the restriction itself and determine what their defense may be should the association be taken to court.

SRVA’s attorney was on hand at the March 24 HOA meeting to make sure the board was on “solid legal grounds” in its decision.

SRVA Board of Directors President Shirley Suroweic said the board followed procedure in considering Ellis’ waiver request.

“Each board member was elected by Lakewood Ranch residents to follow the correct procedures and not make any changes when hearing a waiver,” she said. “We are always reminded to have a high standard of care and conduct at our meetings. After study of the waiver statement, the compliance violation report, the vote was 5-0 against the waiver. Homeowners were to sign and follow the homeowner’s manual when moving to a deed-restricted community.”

Among deed restrictions spelled out in Summerfield/Riverwalk Village Association documents is a provision limiting the number and style of decorative items in homeowners’ front yards. Ellis was cited for having too many yard decorations first in 2006, accruing a $1,600 fine for failing to remove them. After having an attorney write SRVA a letter claiming the entity had passed its statute of limitations for enforcement and was selectively enforcing the concept, the daily fines stopped.

Then, in December 2009, Ellis again received a letter about the violation. Fines began accruing in February after the SRVA Compliance Committee decided to enforce the fee.

Ellis said she believes some of the board members and property manager are pursuing “personal vendettas” but declined to elaborate.

“I hold the specifics for court,” she said.

Surowiec said SRVA review deed restrictions are reviewed annually. Deed homeowners are welcome to attend the meeting, which will be held July 21 this year for SRVA, to review or change modifications covered in the manual.

Contact Pam Eubanks at [email protected].

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